Thousands of buildings either collapsed or were swept away by water in Palu City, leaving scores trapped in the debris, sleeping outdoors or severely wounded.
At least 48 people have died since Friday and authorities are warning that the death toll may substantially rise in the coming days, Indonesia’s Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.
Sutopo said electricity and communications have been cut off, making it difficult to assess the damage not only in Palu but also in the nearby fishing community of Donggala.
Authorities are still urging residents to not go inside their homes and sleep away from building on fields, roads or yards because of possible aftershocks.
Scores wounded, hospital calls for help
More than 350 people are being treated in several local hospitals in the midst of the massive destruction in Palu.
After a local hospital was severely damaged, medical officials opted to treat dozens of wounded residents just outside the building, Nugroho said.
Dr. Komang Adi Sujendra, Director of Undata Hospital in Palu was seeking help from the public following the quake.
“At the moment, in our hospital, electricity is out all over Palu, roads are cracked, the phone network doesn’t work,” he said in a video posted on Twitter. “We are hoping for any help.”
“We need tents, medicine, canvas, nurses…”
Air traffic controller dies after trying to escape
An air traffic controller who stayed behind to make sure a passenger airplane took off was among the dozens of victims.
Anthonius Gunawan Agung, 21, died in the hospital after he jumped off the traffic control tower at the Palu airport when he thought the tower was collapsing.
His colleagues had evacuated the tower when they felt the earthquakes but he stayed behind to ensure that a Batik airplane safely took off, Air Nav Indonesia, the agency that oversees aircraft navigation, said in a statement.
“We felt a deep heartbreak, may God gives Anthonius the best place beside him, along with other victims of Donggala earthquake,” Air Nav spokesperson Yohanes Sirait said.
A massive quake
The horrific scene began Friday when the first in a series of tremors was felt at 3 p.m. (3 a.m. ET) 35 miles (56 km) north of Palu, according to the United States Geological Survey.
Three quakes of 4.9 and larger magnitudes were recorded up to three hours before the tremor near Palu, the USGS said.
The 7.5 magnitude tremor — the largest shock recorded Friday — triggered a tsunami that hit beaches in the cities of Palu and Donggala, officials said.
The tsunami was “about three meters high,” Nugroho said.
The shaking of the 7.5-magnitude tremor was “severe” and the likely damage following the quake was considered “moderate to heavy,” the USGS said.
A series of aftershock quakes were reported in the aftermath of the quake, including a 5.8 magnitude tremor just 12 minutes later.
An early tsunami warning had been issued by the Indonesian meteorological agency, but was later lifted after the agency ascertained that the water had receded.
Troops from the Indonesian National Armed Forces were being deployed to help deal with the effects of the earthquake and tsunami, according to the BNPB.
Writing on his official Twitter account Friday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he was monitoring the situation and preparing for any post-earthquake eventualities.
“May our brothers and sisters remain calm and be safe,” he wrote.
CNN’s Hande Atay Alam and Judith Vonberg contributed to this report.