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Indonesian quake and tsunami kill 832; death toll expected to climb

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The toll from an earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia soared on Sunday to 832 confirmed dead, with authorities fearing that it will only climb as rescuers struggle to reach outlying communities cut off from communications and help.

Palu, Indonesia

THE toll from an earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia soared on Sunday to 832 confirmed dead, with authorities fearing that it will only climb as rescuers struggle to reach outlying communities cut off from communications and help.

Dozens of people were reported to be trapped in the rubble of two hotels and a mall in the city of Palu, which was hit by waves as high as six metres following the 7.5 magnitude earthquake on Friday.

A young woman was pulled alive from the rubble of the city's Roa Roa Hotel, where up to 60 people were believed trapped. Hundreds of people gathered at the ruined mall searching for loved ones.

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With most of the confirmed deaths from Palu, authorities are bracing for much worse as reports filter in from outlying areas, in particular, Donggala, a region of 300,000 people north of Palu and closer to the epicentre of the quake, and two other districts.

Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said that the toll could rise into the thousands. President Joko Widodo visited a housing complex flattened when the quake liquefied the soil that it stood on, and called for patience. "I know there are many problems that need to be solved in a short time, including communications," he said. The ruins would be rebuilt, he said, as aftershocks rattled the region 48 hours after the quake.

Scores of residents shouted "we're hungry, we need food" as soldiers distributed rations from a truck in one neighbourhood, while elsewhere television showed pictures of people making off with clothes and other items from a ruined mall.

Internal Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo, when asked about reports of sporadic looting, said that he had ordered authorities to help people get food and drink, and businesses would be compensated.

National disaster mitigation agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a news conference that the affected area was bigger than initially thought, though rescuers only had good access to one of four affected districts - Palu.

"We haven't received reports from the three other areas. Communication is still down, power is still out. We don't know for sure what is the impact," he said. "There are many areas where the search and rescue teams haven't been able to reach," he said, adding that teams needed heavy equipment to move broken concrete. REUTERS