Dead bodies covered by tarps lie in the city’s streets, exposed to Indonesia’s blistering heat, as rescuers search rubble for survivors buried in crumpled buildings.
Authorities started burying some of the 844 people confirmed dead in mass graves Monday as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of disease.
Body bags lie in an open ditch in Palu, Indonesia.
An estimated 2.4 million people were affected by the disaster, Indonesian Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said. Some 600 people were hospitalized and more than 48,000 have been displaced, Nugroho said Monday.
Aid has started to reach the city of Palu, but rescuers are still trying to reach Donggala regency, home to more than 300,000 people.
They were closest to the epicenter of the largest, magnitude 7.5 earthquake that struck Friday, before the tsunami washed into the long, narrow bay, past the town of Donggala and into Palu.
The Indonesian Red Cross is racing to help survivors, but we don’t know what they’ll find there,” said Jan Gelfand, who heads the International Red Cross delegation in Indonesia Sunday. “I don’t think we’ve quite seen the worst of things yet.”
Aid has been slow to trickle in, delayed by severe damage to Mutiara Sis Al Jufri Airport in Palu, which was closed for 24 hours after the tsunami but has since reopened to limited flights.
Priority will be given to evacuating survivors and allowing aid workers to bring in food and fresh water, said Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who visited the disaster site on Sunday.
Images showed crowds of residents at the airport, waiting to board Hercules flights out of the area. Widodo has authorized the country to request international aid relief.
The European Union and South Korea have offered $1.7 million and $1 million respectively, while the Australian government has said it’s working with Indonesia to identify options for assistance.
Conditions in the devastated city are grim.
Two days after the quake, as they waited for aid, survivors took matters into their own hands and entered shops, wheeling away trolleys filled with food and water.
Mia, 40, was at the Ramayana shopping mall in Palu with her daughters when the ground started shaking.
“I just finished my shopping and went to the cashier, suddenly everything got dark and the walls started falling around us, it was horrible,” said Mia, who like many Indonesians only goes by one name. She said she ran down a broken escalator with her daughters. They made it out alive.
The earthquakes were just the start of the horror for residents of Palu and surrounding areas. The largest tremor triggered a tsunami that sent waves of “about three meters high” to the beaches of Palu and Donggala.
Homes, business and vehicles along the coast were washed away by the violent waves. Uprooted trees and pools of water could be seen throughout the area. Roads and bridges were destroyed.
Across the region, first responders continue to dig through the rubble, sometimes by hand, in the hopes of finding survivors who were trapped by the massive quake or the destructive tsunami that followed.
Workers scrambled Sunday to rescue about 50 people trapped beneath the debris of the Roa Roa hotel.
Aerial images showed the eight-floor building completely collapsed, and video posted by Nugroho to Twitter showed orange-clad responders carrying an individual on a stretcher through the rubble.
One of the guests at the hotel was a 39-year-old South Korean national, according to the South Korean embassy in Indonesia. The man had been in the region for a paragliding competition.
At least five foreigners, including three French nationals as well as a Malaysian and the South Korean national, are unaccounted for, Nugroho said. The Indonesian government has evacuated 114 foreign nationals.
As of Sunday, there were no reports of US citizens affected by the quake, the US Embassy in Jakarta told CNN.