Search effort intensifies after Indonesia quake kills 271

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More rescuers and volunteers have been deployed in devastated areas on Indonesia’s main island of Java to search for the dead and missing from an earthquake that killed at least 271 people.

With many missing, some remote areas still unreachable and more than 2,000 people injured in the 5.6 magnitude quake, the death toll is likely to rise.

Hospitals near the epicentre on the densely populated island were already overwhelmed, and patients hooked up to IV drips lay on stretchers and cots in tents set up outside, awaiting further treatment.

The rescue operation was paused on Wednesday afternoon due to heavy rains that made the landslide areas unstable. Rescuers will resume searching early Thursday.

More than 12,000 army personnel were deployed on Wednesday to increase the strength of search efforts being carried out by more than 2,000 joint forces of police, the search and rescue agency and volunteers, said Suharyanto, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency chief.

Indonesia Earthquake
Rescuers search for victims under the rubble of a building collapsed during Monday’s earthquake in Cianjur, West Java (Rangga Firmansyah/AP)

Suharyanto, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, said aid was reaching thousands of people left homeless who fled to temporary shelters where supplies can be distributed only by foot over the rough terrain.

In several hard-hit areas, water as well as food and medical supplies were being distributed from trucks, and authorities have deployed military personnel carrying food, medicine, blankets, field tents and water tankers.

Volunteers and rescue personnel erected more temporary shelters for those left homeless in several villages of Cianjur district.

Most were barely protected by makeshift shelters that were lashed by heavy monsoon downpours. Only a few were lucky to be protected by tarpaulin-covered tents. They said they were running low on food, blankets and other aid, as emergency supplies were rushed to the region.

He said more than 58,000 survivors were moved to shelters and more than 1,000 people were injured, with nearly 600 of them still receiving treatment for serious injuries.

He said rescuers had recovered 268 bodies from collapsed houses and landslides that triggered by the earthquake, and at least 151 still reported missing. But not all of the dead have been identified, so it’s possible some the bodies pulled from the rubble are of people on the missing list.

Rescue operations were focused on about a dozen villages in Cianjur, where people are still believed trapped, Suharyanto said.

In a virtual news conference on Tuesday evening, Suharyanto said that more than 22,000 houses in Cianjur were damaged and the agency was still collecting data on damaged houses and buildings in the town.

Indonesia Earthquake
Rescue operations were focused on about a dozen villages in Cianjur (Tatan Syuflana/AP)

But the area is densely populated, and experts said the shallowness of the quake and inadequate infrastructure contributed to the severe damage, including caved-in roofs and large piles of bricks, concrete, and corrugated metal.

The quake was centred on the rural, mountainous Cianjur district, where one woman said her home started “shaking like it was dancing”.

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

More than 2.5 million people live in Cianjur district, including about 175,000 in the main town of the same name.

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

President Joko Widodo visited Cianjur on Tuesday and pledged to rebuild infrastructure, including the main bridge connecting Cianjur to other cities, and to provide government assistance to each resident whose house was damaged.

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 in West Sumatra province. In January 2021, a magnitude-6.2 earthquake killed more than 100 people in West Sulawesi province.

In 2004, an earthquake measuring at least 9.1 magnitude struck west of Indonesia and set off an Indian Ocean tsunami in a disaster that killed more than 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Indonesia.

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