Indonesia tsunami and quake: Bodies found in church buried by landslide

Volunteers filling a mass grave were instructed to prepare for a total of 1,300 victims to arrive. * AFP Getty images

Volunteers filling a mass grave were instructed to prepare for a total of 1,300 victims to arrive. * AFP Getty images

The confirmed death toll of 844 looked certain to rise as rescuers reached devastated outlying communities hit on Friday by a 7.5-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami waves as high as six metres.

New Zealand is providing $1.6 million to help the emergency response to the deadly natural disaster and tsunami in Indonesia that killed at least 840 people.

Others have centered their search for loved ones around open-air morgues, where the dead lay in the baking sun - waiting to be claimed, waiting to be named.

President Joko Widodo told reporters getting those people out was a priority.

At least 832 people were confirmed dead as of Sunday evening, Indonesia's disaster agency said, with almost all of those from Palu. But there was a need for heavy equipment to reach possible survivors buried in collapsed buildings, including an eight-story hotel in Palu where voices had been heard in the rubble.

"We don't know for sure what is the impact", Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, told a news conference.

The quake triggered tsunami waves as high as six meters (20 feet) that smashed into the city's beachfront, about 2 km from the hotel. Some hard-hit areas remain without electricity and can not be reached due to destroyed roads, further impeding rescue efforts for those trapped in the rubble.

The death toll is expected to rise as rescuers reach areas that lost power and communication following the natural disaster.

Disaster agency BNBP said it had "limited data, information and access" to the affected areas.

Meanwhile, almost 50,000 people remain displaced and various parts of the nation "paralysed" amid the recovery efforts.

"The prison no longer had enough food", Utami said.

Indonesian Red Cross spokeswoman Aulia Arriani said a church in an area of Sigi, south of Palu, had been engulfed in mud and debris.

Indonesia's Metro TV on Sunday broadcast aerial footage from a coastal community in Donggala, close to the epicenter of the quake.

Satellite imagery provided by regional relief teams showed severe damage at some of the area's major ports, with large ships tossed on land, quays and bridges trashed and shipping containers thrown around.

An aid worker, who had reached cut off district Donggala by motorcycle, said hundreds of people facing a lack of food and medicine were trying to get out but evacuation teams had yet to arrive and roads were blocked.

The European Union said on Sunday that it has released €1.5 million ($1.7 million) in emergency aid for victims of the quake, while the South Korean Embassy in Jakarta said the country would send aid worth $1 million to the affected areas. And as they wait for a chance to fly out, people are also enduring heat of more the 90 degrees, with little to sustain them.

Two small aftershocks hit while looters marauded through the building, prompting screams of "Earthquake, earthquake".

The wave hit Palu on Friday evening as Muslim worshippers were gathering for evening prayers in local mosques.

It was the latest natural disaster to hit Indonesia, which is frequently struck by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis because of its location on the "Ring of Fire", an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.

Last Friday's tremor was more powerful than a series of quakes that killed hundreds on the Indonesian island of Lombok in July and August.

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