Indonesia tsunami: desperation mounts in Palu amid aid delays and food shortages

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Dozens of people were 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 natural disaster on Friday.

After touring the devastated area on Sunday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo tweeted: "Grieve for the people of Central Sulawesi, we all grieve together".

Save The Children program director Tom Howells said access was a "huge issue" hampering relief efforts.

Indonesian rescuers try to free a 15-year-old quake survivor, Nurul Istikhomah, from the flooded ruins of a collapsed house in Palu on Sunday.

"Aid agencies and local authorities are struggling to reach several communities around Donggala, where we are expecting there to be major damage and potential large-scale loss of life", Howells said.

The death toll from the massive quake and tsunami that hit the Indonesian island of Sulawesi has increased slightly to 844, with another 50,000 people having been displaced by the disaster.

The death toll of the disaster is expected to reach 2,000 as rescue operations continue.

"People here need aid - food, drink, clean water", said Anser Bachmid, a 39-year-old Palu resident.

Shaken survivors have abandoned their ruined homes in search of food and shelter as 844 people have been confirmed dead.

A man searches for victims among the rubble of a ten-storey hotel in Palu in Indonesia's Central Sulawesi on Sunday.

"The situation in the affected areas is nightmarish", Jan Gelfand, head of an International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies office in Jakarta, said in a statement.

"I could see my father still embracing my sister", Setiwan said Monday, recounting the devastating moment he found the pair entombed in mud near their home in the Indonesian city of Palu.

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Sulawesi is one of the earthquake-prone archipelago nation's five main islands and sits astride fault lines.

The ruins would be rebuilt, he said, as aftershocks rattled the region 48 hours after the quake.

Footage of the ruined city of Palu showed a crumpled mess of houses, cars and trees mashed together, with rooftops and roads split asunder.

The lone Filipino in Central Sulawesi is one of over 800 people missing after a 7.4 magnitude natural disaster and tsunami hit the area on Friday, the Philippine consul general in Indonesia said.

Makassar is over 700 kilometres (435 miles) from Palu and Donggala.

The power company was working to restore electricity while the state oil firm had sent in fuel, officials said.

"No one has come here to help", Mahmud, an elderly resident of Balaroa village, told Metro TV.

Wiranto said a navy vessel capable of taking 1,000 people at a time would also be deployed to help with the evacuation.

Residents carry their belongings on October 1 after an natural disaster Palu, Sulawesi Island, Indonesia on Friday. In December 2004, a massive magnitude 9.1 natural disaster off Sumatra island in western Indonesia triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries.

"Our funding has been going down every year", agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said. He blamed a lack of funds.

But about 30 minutes later, Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency canceled the warning, saying the quake was "not capable of generating a tsunami affecting the Indian Ocean region".

The death toll could rise even higher, officials warn, as workers clear debris, rubble and vehicles that were swept away by a massive wave of seawater on Friday.

People survey a damaged mosque in Palu.