"I just ran when I saw the waves hitting homes on the coastline", Palu resident Rusidanto said.
Palu, the capital of Central Sulawesi province, is home to more than 380,000 people and is built around a narrow bay.
Communications "were totally crippled with no information" from Donggala, Nugroho said.
"Many bodies were found along the shoreline because of the tsunami, but the numbers are still unknown". He said that could have triggered the tsunami, which also could have been created by an underwater landslide.
Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and is regularly hit by earthquakes, including the devastating Boxing Day 2004 natural disaster and tsunami that killed more than 120,000 in northern Aceh province alone.
Nugroho, the disaster agency's spokesman, said thousands of homes, hotels, shopping centres, hospitals and other public facilities were damaged. The communications ministry is working to fix 276 electricity base stations.
Patients are being treated in the open outside city hospitals and at least one military field hospital has been erected. "We even heard people calling for help there yesterday".
Palu's airport halted operations for 24 hours due to natural disaster damage, according to AirNav, which oversees airline traffic in Indonesia.
Soon after the plane took off, the tower trembled, and Mr Agung chose to jump off the fourth floor of the tower, thinking the building could collapse any time. New navigation equipment for the airport was dispatched by helicopter from Makassar on Saturday morning.
Indonesia's meteorological agency has been criticised for its response but officials said the waves struck while the warning was in place.
A large ship was washed 70 metres inland by the wave.
A tsunami that hit two central Indonesian cities swept away buildings and pulverized a substantial bridge, dumping victims caught in its relentless path across a devastated landscape that rescuers were struggling to reach Saturday, hindered by damaged roads and broken communications. The festival was due to start Friday night. The destruction spread as far as Japan, where 142 people were killed and 1,600 buildings damaged.
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Sulawesi is about 1600 kilometres north-east of Jakarta.
Amateur video footage showed trees, buildings and a communications tower being swept through a rural landscape.
Photographs of many more dead bodies are also being circulated on social media.
The ruins of cars as seen after tsunami hit in Palu, Indonesia September 29, 2018.
President Jokowi will arrive in Palu on Sunday to monitor the handling of the emergency.
Strong aftershocks have continued to hit the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, where a tsunami and a seven-point-five magnitude quake have led to at least 408 deaths and injured five-hundred. I am monitoring [the development] and keep my staff on alert to deal with all possibilities after the quakes.
A Facebook page was created by anxious relatives who posted pictures of still-missing family members in the hopes of finding them alive.
Patients are evacuated from a hospital following a strong natural disaster in Poso, central Sulawesi.
"The Australian Government has not received a request for assistance at this time", a spokesperson said.
Among the dead was a young Indonesian air traffic controller who stayed at his post when the quake hit to ensure that a plane carrying hundreds of passengers took off safely.
The natural disaster has come a month after a trio of earthquakes hit several islands in the Sotuh Pacific and Indonesia, which is still recovering from the effects of an August 5 quake that killed more than 450 people.