Indonesia earthquake death toll rises to 252 as more bodies found

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The death toll from Monday’s earthquake on Java has leapt to 252 after rescuers found more bodies under collapsed buildings, Indonesian authorities have said.

The Cianjur regional disaster mitigation agency said on its Instagram site on Tuesday that the number of dead has risen from the 162 reported the night before. Hundreds of other people were injured and 31 remain missing.

The city, in the country’s most densely populated province of West Java, was near the epicentre of the magnitude 5.6 quake on Monday afternoon, which sent terrified residents fleeing into the streets, some covered in blood and debris.

Excavators, trucks and other heavy equipment sent overnight reached the city, south of Jakarta, on Tuesday.

Indonesia Earthquake
Residents inspect houses damaged by Monday’s earthquake in Cianjur, West Java, Indonesia (Rangga Firmansyah/AP)

“I was crying and immediately grabbed my husband and children,” said the woman, who gave her name only as Partinem. The house collapsed shortly after she escaped with her family.

“If I didn’t pull them out we might have also been victims,” she said, gazing over the pile of concrete and timber rubble.

In addition to those killed, authorities reported that more than 300 people were seriously hurt and at least 600 more suffered minor injuries. It was not immediately clear how many remain missing.

In the village of Cijedil, north-west of Cianjur, the quake triggered a landslide that blocked streets and engulfed several houses, and there were reports that 25 people were still buried, said National Search and Rescue Agency chief Henri Alfiandi.

“We are maximising operations at several points where it is suspected that there are still casualties. Our team is also trying to reach remote areas,” he said. “For us, all victims are a priority, our goal is to find them and save lives by getting them evacuated as soon as possible and get medical help.”

Indonesia Earthquake
A man collects clothing from his damaged home (Rangga Firmansyah/AP)

Many of the dead were public school students who had finished classes for the day and were taking extra lessons at Islamic schools when the buildings collapsed, West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil said.

Initial rescue attempts were hampered by damaged roads and bridges and power blackouts, and a lack of heavy equipment to help move the heavy concrete rubble. By Tuesday, power supplies and phone communications had begun to improve.

Operations were focused on about a dozen locations in Cianjur, where people are still believed trapped, said a public works and housing spokesman.

“We are racing against time to rescue people,” he said, adding that seven excavators and 10 large trucks had been deployed from neighbouring Bandung and Bogor cities to continue clearing trees and soil that blocked roads.

Indonesia Earthquake
Rescuers use equipment to break through cement as they try to recover the body of an earthquake victim in Cianjur, West Java, Indonesia (Tatan Syuflana/AP)

“Buildings were completely flattened,” said Dwi Sarmadi, who works for an Islamic educational foundation in a neighbouring district.

President Joko Widodo on Tuesday visited Cianjur to reassure people of the government’s response in reaching those in need.

“On behalf of myself and on behalf of the government, I would like to express my deep condolences to the victims and their families in this Cianjur earthquake,” he said after visiting survivors in shelters on a football field.

He pledged to rebuild infrastructure, including the main bridge connecting Cianjur to other cities, and to provide government assistance of up to 50 million rupiah (£2,500) to each resident whose house was damaged.

Roughly 175,000 people live in Cianjur, part of a mountainous district of the same name with more than 2.5 million people. Known for their piety, the people of Cianjur live mostly in towns of one- and two-storey buildings and in smaller homes in the surrounding countryside.

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Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited Cianjur to reassure people of the government’s response in reaching those in need (Athit Perawongmetha/Pool/AP)

“I was working inside my office building. The building was not damaged, but as the quake shook very strongly, many things fell. My leg was hit by heavy stuff,” Mr Sarmadi said.

He was waiting near a tent outside the hospital after some overwhelmed clinics were unable to see him. Many people were coming in a worse condition. “I really hope they can handle me soon,” he said.

Hasan, a construction worker who, like many Indonesians uses one name, was also one of the survivors who was taken to the hospital.

“I fainted. It was very strong,” he recalled. “I saw my friends running to escape from the building. But it was too late to get out and I was hit by the wall.”

Indonesia Earthquake
Injured survivors are treated under a makeshift tent at a hospital in Cianjur, Indonesia (Tatan Syuflana/AP)

The country of more than 270 million people is frequently struck by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis because of its location on the arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin known as the “Ring of Fire”.

In February, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake killed at least 25 people and injured more than 460 in West Sumatra province.

In January 2021, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake killed more than 100 people and injured nearly 6,500 in West Sulawesi province.

A powerful Indian Ocean quake and tsunami in 2004 killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Indonesia.

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