The toll from an earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia has soared to 832 confirmed dead, with authorities fearing the numbers will climb as rescuers struggle to get aid to outlying communities cut off from communications and help.

Dozens of people are reported to be trapped in the rubble of several hotels and a mall in the city of Palu, on Sulawesi island, which was hit by waves as high as six metres following the 7.5 magnitude earthquake on Friday.

A woman was pulled alive from the debris of the city’s Roa Roa Hotel, where up to 60 people were believed trapped.

Hundreds of people gathered at the wrecked eight-storey Tatura Mall searching for loved ones.

“Grieve for the people of Central Sulawesi, we all grieve together,” President Joko Widodo tweeted late on Sunday.

Most of the confirmed deaths were in Palu itself, and authorities are bracing for the toll to climb as connections with outlying areas are restored.

Of particular concern is Donggala, a region of 300,000 people north of Palu and close to the epicentre of the quake, and two other districts, which have been cut off from communications since Friday.


Along with Palu, these districts have a combined population of about 1.4 million.

Television pictures showed scores of residents in one neighbourhood shouting for food as soldiers distributed rations from a truck.

Other footage showed people making off with clothes and other items from a wrecked mall.

Asked about reports of looting, Internal Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo said he had ordered authorities to help people get food and drink, and that businesses would be compensated.

State logistics agency chief Budi Waseso said the agency was preparing to send hundreds of tonnes of government rice stocks to affected areas.


Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said the government had allocated 560 billion rupiah ($A52 million) for disaster recovery, media reported.

Australia stands ready to help Indonesia after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Sulawesi, the prime minister and foreign affairs minister said.

Scott Morrison and Marise Payne expressed their condolences to the people of Indonesia in a joint statement late on Sunday.

At least 832 people have been confirmed dead after a powerful 7.5 magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami that barrelled into Central Sulawesi on Friday.

The death toll is expected to rise as connections to outlying areas are restored.


“The reported scale and impact of the disaster continues to grow and aftershocks continue to be recorded,” Mr Morrison and Senator Payne’s statement said.

“As a close neighbour, Australia stands ready to support Government of Indonesia response efforts, if required.”

The leaders said they have been in direct contact with Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, and had passed on the concern of Australians and an offer of support if required.

No Australians are known to be affected at this stage.


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