Hard-hit Indonesian city buries its dead as toll tops 840

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 number of people displaced by last Friday's magnitude-7.4 natural disaster and tsunami in the provincial capital Palu and Donggala regency has risen to 48,000, prompting a mobilisation of 2,300 more Indonesian military and police personnel to reinforce relief operations.

The extent of the devastation caused by an quake and tsunami on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi should become clearer on Tuesday as rescuers push into remote areas that have been out of contact for more than three days.

Aid groups say that more than 1.5 million people have been affected by the disaster, with one-third having lost family members, houses or livelihoods, according to worldwide agencies helping in the response.

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.

Indonesia's President Widodo has approved foreign aid after visiting the area on Sunday.

The dead - many yet uncounted, their bodies still trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings - are also a source of concern for authorities.

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"We face many obstacles", said Sutopo Nugroho, spokesperson for the Indonesian Disaster and Mitigation Agency, at a media briefing Monday. The magnitude 7.5 natural disaster struck at dusk Friday and spawned a tsunami said to have been as high as 6 meters (20 feet) in places.

Yenni Suryani, of Catholic Relief Services, said devastated infrastructure was hampering rescue efforts.

The confirmed death toll from the quake and subsequent tsunami had reached 844 by Tuesday morning and was expected to rise further.

"I know there are many problems that need to be solved in a short time, including communications", he said on a visit to disaster areas in Palu. "Haven't eaten, barely had a drink", said 44-year-old food vendor Wiwid.

As if this writing, the agency has recorded 540 inj‌ure‌d people and more than 16,000 others who have been displaced, according to the Jakarta Post.

Indonesia's Metro TV on Sunday broadcast aerial footage from a coastal community in Donggala, close to the epicenter of the quake. Most were accounted for, but one South Korean was believed to be trapped in the Roa-Roa Hotel, while three others from France and one from Malaysia were missing.

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Government and aid agencies have been slow to reach Palu and supplies are low.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo walks through the damaged area following earthquakes and a tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia on Sunday.

Damaged roads and telecommunication channels have disrupted the distribution of aid and supplies in some areas.

A double-arched yellow bridge had collapsed, its ribs twisted as cars bobbed in the water below. "Evacuation is hard because many collapsed houses are buried in soil", Nugroho said on Sunday evening.

The initial quake struck as evening prayers were about to begin in the world's biggest Muslim majority country on the holiest day of the week.

Indonesia, which sits on the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire, is all too familiar with deadly earthquakes and tsunamis. In December 2004, a massive magnitude 9.1 natural disaster off Sumatra island in western Indonesia triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries.

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