Just 34 minutes after Indonesia was hit by another major earthquake, officials called off a tsunami warning. Aid agencies and others – still dealing with the aftermath of a devastating quake in August – breathed a sigh of relief.
What they didn't know was that, just about that same time, a 10-foot wall of seawater was tearing through the city of Palu and other areas Friday in an island in the center of the vast Indonesian archipelago.
Amid the roar of onrushing sea and terrified cries for help, the tsunami tore homes off their foundations, snapped palm trees and dragged away victims – some preparing for a beach festival at dusk on Friday. Bodies were later left on the sand as the waters receded, and some were dragged out to sea.
More than 420 died in Palu alone, officials said Saturday as they began to take stock of the devastation and count the dead amid fears the tally could rise significantly from the 7.5 magnitude quake and the tsunami that churned over parts of Sulawesi, about 800 miles northwest of Jakarta.
Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla, in an interview with local media, said the death toll could reach well into the thousands.
Among the dead was a young Indonesian air traffic controller who stayed at his post when the earthquake hit to ensure that a plane carrying hundreds of passengers took off safely. He jumped from the tower and died before a medical helicopter could reach him.
Elsewhere, rescue teams confronted washed out roads and bridges as they tried to reach another city, Donggala, and other areas completely cut off by the quake and tsunami.
Indonesian officials also may face another reckoning over why the tsunami alerts were pulled even as a disaster was roaring ashore, raising questions about the level of monitoring and post-quake analysis in a nation along some of the world's most act. Full Report