"When the [tsunami] threat arose yesterday, people were still doing their activities on the beach and did not immediately run and they became victims", Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for BNPB, Indonesia's disaster response agency, told reporters in Jakarta, Reuters reported.
Earlier this year, a series of powerful quakes hit Lombok, killing more than 550 people on the holiday island and neighbouring Sumbawa.
The quake triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries. The tremor hit the island of Sulawesi and reportedly destroyed buildings. People including hospital patients have fled outdoors amid the aftershocks. A total of 67,875 houses, 468 schools, six bridges, 50 oratories, 20 offices, 15 mosques and 13 health centres were demolished or damaged.
The main airport in Palu was shut after the tsunami struck and was expected to stay closed for at least 24 hours, complicating any disaster relief efforts. Saturday morning, only a helicopter could land to bring humanitarian assistance.
He said in a live TV interview Friday that houses were swept away and families are reported missing.
The quake and tsunami caused a power outage that cut communications around Palu.
Central Sulawesi was hit earlier Friday by a magnitude 6.1 natural disaster that, based on preliminary information, killed one person, injured 10 and damaged dozens of houses.
A spokesman for Indonesia's geophysics agency says a powerful Sulawesi quake caused a tsunami, apparently after the agency lifted a tsunami warning.
It was followed by a series of powerful aftershocks, including one measuring 5.7 magnitude. "The tsunami also damaged scores of houses", an official told Xinhua news agency over telephone.
Other pictures showed major damage to buildings, with rubble strewn about the road and large cracks running through pavements. It depicts huge waves crashing into houses along Palu's shoreline.
An Australian Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said the government was not aware of any Australians affected by the disaster but was continuing to make inquiries with local authorities. That was followed by a 7.7-magnitude quake at 6:02 p.m.
President Jokowi will arrive in Palu on Sunday to monitor the handling of the emergency.
Quake just off Sulawesi island, Indonesia.
We will continue to monitor this story as it develops.
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