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Indonesia Tsunami Death Toll Jump to More than 1,200
Desperation and frustration are rising on the central Indonesian island of Sulawesi, where more than 1,200 people were killed in last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami.
Reports from the scene say residents in Palu, the city hardest hit by the disaster, are looting abandoned stores in a search for food and clean water, growing angrier with each passing hour over the government's slow response in delivering emergency aid. Meanwhile, rescue crews continue to dig among the rubble scattered across Palu in a frantic search for any survivors, but their efforts have been hampered by a lack of heavy machinery. At least 50 people alone are believed trapped beneath the ruins of the city's Hotel Roa Roa.
Indonesia's national disaster agency announced Tuesday that the death toll now stands at 1,234 from last Friday's 7.5 magnitude earthquake, which triggered a huge tsunami with waves as high as six meters. Scores of houses and buildings in Palu were turned into huge mounds of debris, leaving as many as 50,000 residents displaced. The tsunami also washed out Sulawesi's roads and bridges, and wrecked the island's airport, has slowed efforts to deliver relief supplies. About 3,000 residents flocked to the airport Monday in hopes of catching a military cargo plane or a rare commercial airline to take them off the island.
Emergency officials fear the death toll will rise as rescue crews reach three districts near Palu that were cut off by the disaster. The three areas have a combined population of over one million people.
The region was struck by at least one moderate aftershock on Tuesday. There have been no reports of any casualties or damage.
President Jokowi Widodo has authorized the acceptance of international help for Sulawesi.
Authorities say hundreds of people were on the beach in Palu for a festival when the earthquake and tsunami struck, sweeping many away to their deaths when the giant waves arrived.
Indonesia had been working with the U.S. National Science Foundation on a prototype tsunami early warning system that picks up changes in the water column on the ocean floor.
But the project was put on hold last week, apparently because the recent devaluation of the Indonesian currency created concerns in Indonesia about how to pay for its share of the project.
Indonesia and its 18,000 islands are located along the Pacific Ocean's "Ring of Fire" and are frequently struck by earthquake, volcano and tsunami activity.
A 9.1-magnitude quake in 2004 off Sumatra and subsequent tsunami killed about 230,000 people in 14 Pacific countries, with about half of those deaths occurring in Indonesia.