Hundreds of people gathered at the wrecked eight-storey Tatura Mall searching for loved ones.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla predicts the death toll could reach into the thousands since officials have had trouble relaying information from remote areas because of downed power lines.
According to the US Geological Survey, the quake hit just off central Sulawesi at a depth of 10 km and left many buildings destructed.
Donggala's waterfront and port was extensively damaged, with houses swept into the sea and bodies trapped in the rubble, according to a Metro TV reporter on the scene.
"We have heard nothing from Donggala and this is extremely worrying".
"We need tents, medicines, medical personnel, tarpaulins, blankets and more of other things", he said.
AirNav said one of its air traffic controllers, aged 21, died in the quake after staying in the tower to ensure a flight he'd just cleared for departure got airborne safely.
Indonesia has been hit by a string of other deadly quakes including a devastating 9.1 magnitude tremor that struck off the coast of Sumatra in December 2004.
VOA's former bureau chief in Jakarta Frans Padak Demon, who was in Palu when the tsunami hit, estimates that there were as many as "thousands of people in Talise Beach" around 5pm on Friday for an event commemorating the anniversary of the city of Palu.
Indonesia's meteorological and geophysics agency BMKG issued a tsunami warning after the quake, but lifted it 34 minutes later.
"When the wave came, I lost her", he said.
There were concerns over the whereabouts of hundreds of people preparing for a beach festival that had been due to start on Friday, September 28, the disaster agency said.
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Dramatic video footage captured from the top floor of a parking ramp in Palu, almost 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the quake's epicentre, showed waves bring down several buildings and inundate a large mosque. Reuters was not able to authenticate the footage.
A spokesman for the National disaster mitigation agency, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, told a news conference that the affected area was bigger than initially thought, and rescuers only had good access to one of four affected districts - Palu.
"We are having difficulty deploying heavy equipment to find victims under the rubble of buildings because numerous roads leading to Palu city are damaged", he was quoted by the Kompas newspaper as saying.
A World Vision New Zealand spokesperson, Tilly Redstone, said all its people in Indonesia had been accounted for and were okay.
Indonesian TV showed a smartphone video of a powerful wave hitting Palu, with people screaming and running in fear.
Photos confirmed by authorities showed bodies lined up on a street on Saturday, some in bags and some with their faces covered by clothes.
Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo toured Palu on Sunday and said rescuers were having difficulty reaching victims because of a shortage of heavy equipment.
The Head of Palu Penitentiary, Adhi Yan Ricoh, told Indonesian magazine Tempo there were 560 inmates at the prison and more than half escaped.
"Of the 2,500-meter-long runway, 500 meters are cracked... however, it is still possible for military cargo planes to land", he said.
Indonesian media showed images of survivors entering the heavily damaged malls and supermarkets to loot supplies, despite the risk of building collapse.
Indonesia is prone to earthquakes as it lies on a vulnerable quake-affected zone called the Pacific Ring of Fire.
While numerous injured are being treated at local hospitals, according to CNN, at least one hospital has been structurally compromised, resulting in some of the injured being cared for in the street.
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