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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.

Al Jazeera’s Jamela Alindogan, reporting from Makassar, a port city in eastern Sulawesi, said help must come from abroad as the scale of the devastation has left everyone struggling to cope.

“If you look at the level of devastation caused by the disaster, we see that everybody is affected by it, police officers, rescue workers and even medical workers have also become victims of it,” she said.

“At this point what is important is to clear logistics in order for aid to come in, all the roads coming in to the areas affected must be covered.”

Thousands need emergency help

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.

‘People in dire need’

Indonesian police on Tuesday said they have arrested dozens of people for looting in Sulawesi, where survivors have raided shops for water, food and other goods.

“On the first and second day clearly no shops were open. People were hungry. There were people in dire need. That’s not a problem,” said deputy national police chief Ari Dono Sukmanto.

“But after day two, the food supply started to come in, it only needed to be distributed.”

However Sukmanto said that people grabbing food would still be tolerated.

On Monday, President Joko Widodo authorised the acceptance of international help amid lack of equipment and aid materrials.

The European Union, the US and China are among more than 10 countries who have offered assistance.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Tuesday that his government had given $360,000 to help victims and was in talks with Indonesian authorities about a second round of aid.

The initial funds would go to the Indonesian Red Cross for the most obvious emergency aid needs, such as tarpaulins.

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