The confirmed death toll from an earthquake and tsunami on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island has risen to 1,234, from 844, the national disaster agency said on Tuesday.
A 7.5 magnitude earthquake on Friday triggered tsunami waves as high as six metres (20 feet), which ravaged the small city of Palu, on the west coast of Sulawesi.
Nearly 200,000 people have been displaced and are in need of emergency help, while thousands have been streaming out of the stricken areas.
Rescuers have yet to reach many affected areas leading to fears the death toll could rise again.
Nigel Timmins, Oxfam’s humanitarian director, said it could take weeks to realise the full extent of the disaster.
“It’s not just a wall of water, it’s a wall of water full of debris: concrete, trees, cars – everything being churned around like a giant cement mixer. It’s like a huge bulldozer that clears away the land and afterward you’re left with complete chaos,” Timmins told Al Jazeera.
About 1,700 houses in one Palu neighbourhood were swallowed up, with hundreds of people believed buried, the national disaster agency said.
There was also mounting concern over Donggala, a region of 300,000 people north of Palu and close to the epicentre, and two other districts – with a combined population of about 1.4 million.
Initial reports from Red Cross rescuers who had reached the outskirts of Donggala district were chilling.
“The situation in the affected areas is nightmarish,” Jan Gelfand, head of an the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) office in Jakarta, said in a statement.
“The city of Palu has been devastated and first reports out of Donggala indicate that it has also been hit extremely hard by the double disaster,” Gelfand said.