At least 384 people have been killed after a powerful earthquake triggered a tsunami that hit Indonesia‘s central Sulawesi island.

All the deaths were recorded in Palu, the capital of Central Sulawesi province, according to Indonesia’s disaster agency on Saturday.

The city, built around a narrow bay that apparently magnified the force of the tsunami waters, was strewn with debris from collapsed buildings.

Seawater pooled inland and a mosque heavily damaged by the quake was half submerged. A shopping mall in the paralysed city of more than 380,000 people had been reduced to a crumpled hulk.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesperson of Indonesia’s disaster agency BNPB, said on that four hospitals in Palu reported hundreds of injured.

“Many bodies were found along the shoreline because of the tsunami, but the numbers are still unknown,” said Nugroho in a news briefing in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta.

Dawn revealed a devastated coastline in central Sulawesi where the 3-metre high tsunami triggered by the magnitude 7.5 earthquake on Friday smashed into two cities and several settlements.

Nugroho described the damage as “extensive” and said bodies of some victims were found trapped between rubble of collapsing buildings. More than 350 people were injured, he said.

Hospitals were overwhelmed by the influx of the injured, with many people being treated in the open air, while other survivors helped to retrieve the remains of those who died.

In the nearby city of Donggala, a large bridge with yellow arches that spanned a coastal river had collapsed.

 Disaster agency reported ‘extensive’ damage to buildings in Palu [Rifki/AP]

‘I just ran’

Dramatic video footage filmed from the top floor of a parking ramp in Palu, nearly 80km from the quake’s epicentre, showed waves of water bring down several buildings and inundate a large mosque.

“I just ran when I saw the waves hitting homes on the coastline,” said Palu resident Rusidanto. 

The quake and tsunami caused a major power outage that cut communications around Palu and on Saturday authorities were still having difficulties coordinating rescue efforts.

Road access to Palu from the east and the south were also disconnected.

The city’s airport remained closed after its runway and air traffic control tower was damaged in the quake but officials said they were preparing to reopen to allow aid to come in.

Indonesian president Joko Widodo said the military was being called in to the disaster-struck region to help search-and-rescue teams get to victims and find bodies. 

Officials say death toll from quake, tsunami on Palu may rise [AP]

Tomi Soetjipto, a journalist based in Jakarta, said it was the earthquake that caused most of the casualties.

“We are receiving reports of widespread damage to buildings because of the earthquake. A lot of houses in the area do not meet international safety standards,” Soetjipto told Al Jazeera.

Emergency supplies have been dispatched from Jakarta and other cities near Palu, he said, but the aid has not reached affected areas because of “bad roads”.

“Makeshift shelters are being erected in the cities nearby. For now, the majority of 380,000 people there are staying outside their buildings,” he added.

Indonesia’s meteorological and geophysics agency BMKG issued a tsunami warning after the quake, but lifted it 34 minutes later.

The agency was widely criticised for not informing a tsunami had hit Palu on Saturday, though officials said waves had come within the time the warning was issued.

The Palu area was hit by a less powerful quake earlier on Friday, which destroyed some houses, killed one person and injured at least 10 in the fishing town of Donggala, closest to the epicentre, authorities said.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and is regularly hit by earthquakes. In August, a series of major quakes killed over 500 people in the tourist island of Lombok and destroyed dozens of villages along its northern coast.

Palu was hit by tsunami in 1927 and 1968, according to the disaster agency.

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