Police guarded banks in the Indonesian city of Palu on Monday as residents scrambled to flee and dozens of bodies lay unclaimed in a hospital three days after a major earthquake and tsunami.
The confirmed death toll from a 7.5 magnitude earthquake on Friday, which triggered tsunami waves as high as six metres (20 feet), rose to 844 but was sure to go higher as rescuers reach remote villages cut off since disaster struck.
All but 23 of the confirmed deaths were in Palu, a city of about 380,000 people at the head of a long, narrow bay on the west coast of Sulawesi Island. On a hill above the city, authorities used an excavator to claw a long, mass grave from the sandy soil.
They are hoping relatives can identify bodies of loved ones before they are buried. But it is a heart-breaking search. “There are a few young girls but I can’t recognise them,” said Lisa, 38, who was at Palu’s hospital looking for her 14-year-old daughter and mother among dozens of bodies in orange bags lined up out the back.
About 3,000 people thronged the city’s small airport hoping to catch a ride on military planes laid on to take people out, most to a provincial capital to the south.
FRACTURED ROADS, NO WATER
The government has played down fears of looting. Officials say quake victims can take things from shops and the government will pay compensation later.
There have been no reports of violence and there was no major security presence on Palu’s streets on Monday but dozens of armed police were guarding city banks.
Parts of the city are expanses of devastation - shattered timbers and concrete, broken window frames and roofs.
One main road into Palu was blocked by a boat, swept ashore by the tsunami. Workers with heavy machinery were trying to clear debris from another stretch of the road.
(With inputs from agencies)
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