Residents of the town closest to the epicentre of the earthquake which devastated parts of Indonesia’s Sulawesi island have begged the country’s president to help them.

Most of the attention so far has focused on the biggest affected city, Palu, home to 380,000 people, but people in many outlying areas are still waiting for assistance.

The confirmed death toll was raised to 1,234, but national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said at a news conference in Jakarta that casualties in the communities of Sigi and Balaroa have not been counted yet, meaning the figure is likely to rise.

Indonesia quake wreckageThe scale of the destruction is apparent in parts of the island (AP)

Donggala and other outlying areas have received little assistance largely due to impassable roads.

Local administration head Kasman Lassa said residents should take only food staples from shops.

“Everyone is hungry and they want to eat after several days of not eating,” Mr Lassa said.

“We have anticipated it by providing food, rice, but it was not enough. There are many people here. So, on this issue, we cannot pressure them to hold much longer.”

Desperation was visible everywhere among victims receiving little aid. In Palu, signs propped along roads read “We Need Food” and “We Need Support,” while children begged for cash in the streets and long lines of cars snarled traffic as people waited for fuel.

Indonesian quake survivorsSa’adon Lawira holds his grandson’s cat whose cry helped him find his body in Balaroa, Palu (AP)

Teams were searching for trapped survivors under destroyed homes and buildings, including a collapsed eight-storey hotel in the city, but they needed more heavy equipment to clear the rubble.

Many people are believed to be trapped under shattered houses in Balaroa, where the earthquake caused the ground to heave up and down violently.

In the Petobo area, the quake caused loose, wet soil to liquefy, creating a heavy mud that resulted in massive damage. “In Petobo, it is estimated that there are still hundreds of victims buried in mud,” Mr Nugroho said.

Residents who found loved ones – alive and dead – over the weekend expressed frustration that it took rescue teams until Monday to reach Petobo.

Indonesian soldiersIndonesian soldiers assist earthquake victims (AP)

The magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck at dusk on Friday and generated a tsunami said to have been as high as nearly 20ft in places.

About 3,000 residents flocked to Palu’s airport on Monday, trying to board military aircraft or one of the few commercial flights using the facility only partially operating due to damage. Video showed some of them screaming in anger because they were not able to get on a departing military plane.

“We have not eaten for three days,” one woman said. “We just want to be safe.”

Nearly 50,000 people have been displaced from their homes in Palu alone, Mr Nugroho said, and hospitals were overwhelmed.

Indonesian earthquake damageScenes of destruction at Talise beach in Palu, Central Sulawesi (AP)

The Indonesian air force confirmed that a Hercules aircraft carrying an unspecified number of survivors was able to leave Palu for South Sulawesi’s capital of Makassar.

In addition, more than 100 police officers from the capital, Jakarta, were sent to Palu and additional Hercules aircraft carrying soldiers and supplies, including food and water, from east Java were en route, local television reported.

President Joko Widodo authorised the acceptance of international help, with generators, heavy equipment and tents were among the most-needed items. The European Union and about 10 other countries have offered assistance, including the US and China.