The 7.4-magnitude temblor and tsunami on Sept. 28 devastated buildings and homes in Palu, Donggala and other parts of Indonesia's Central Sulawesi province. (Photo by Kordi Jehaut/ucanews.com)
At least 832 people have died as a result of the 7.4-magnitude earthquake that unleashed a tsunami with waves measuring up to 3 meters on Sulawesi Island in Indonesia on the afternoon of Sept. 28.
The quake, which hit the town of Palu as well as Donggala, Sigi and Parigi Moutong districts in Central Sulawesi province, has also left over 580 people injured, forced more than 16,700 others to flee their homes, and damaged numerous buildings, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.
A mass burial for hundreds of the casualties will be held soon and the death toll is expected to keep rising as bodies are still being pulled from the rubble of collapsed buildings, agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told reporters on Sept. 30.
He said at least one South Korean was believed to be trapped under the ruins of a hotel in Palu town while one Malaysian and two French nationals are also on the missing list.
The area is in urgent need of material aid such as potable drinking water, medicine, food, cookies for infants, tents and blankets along with medical personnel, he said.
Meanwhile, Governor Longki Djanggola has declared a state of emergency for 14 days from Sept. 28 until Oct. 11.
Indonesia has been rocked by a series of earthquakes in recent months including several that struck the island of Lombok, near Bali, in August killing over 450 people.
Speaking with ucanews.com, Father Joy Derry Clement, chairman of the Socio-Economic Commission of Manado Diocese in North Sulawesi said some parishes in the area have been heavily hit.
Father Clement said he had been informed by Father Johanis Salaki from the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Palu that at least two parish churches have been partially destroyed.
"Their walls are cracked. In some cases, heavy steel pillars have become detached from their brackets," he said, adding a number of priests suffered minor injuries due to the quake.
Sacred Heart Bishop Benedictus Estephanus Rolly Untu appointed Father Clement to coordinate the diocese's charity efforts, he said.
"We've formed team that will be sent to Palu soon to assess the situation there. I've also set up a logistics team in the commission's office where material aid from local Catholics can be collected," he said.
At least 500 priests, nuns, seminarians and lay Catholics have been forced to relocate to the compound of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish without tents since the disaster, he added.
Father Salaki could not be reached for comment as of Oct. 1 due to a temporary breakdown in communication networks.
Aryo Saptoadji, an emergency response team member with Caritas Indonesia, the Church's charity arm, told ucanews.com that his group is working with the diocesan commission and similar bodies in South Sulawesi to provide assessments and relief.
The Association of Indonesian Catholic Health Services, Catholic Relief Services, and several NGOs have pitched in to help, he added.
Rudi Raka, a volunteer with the assessment team dispatched by Makassar Archdiocese, told ucanews.com they left for Donggala early in the morning of Oct. 1 by land and were expected to arrive in the district that evening. From there they will travel to Palu to provide assistance.
"We'll do a rapid assessment and decide what action we need to take based on the results," he said, adding the team will stay there for three days.
The disaster has drawn the attention of the international community, including Pope Francis.
After reciting the Angelus with members of the faithful at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City on Sept. 30, the pontiff expressed his condolences.
"I pray for the deceased — unfortunately, [they are] numerous — for the wounded, for all those that have lost their homes and work," the pope said.
"May the Lord console them and support the efforts of all those that are involved in bringing help. Let us pray together for our brothers of the Island of Sulawesi. Hail Mary."