Indonesian rescuers search through rubble or earthquakes; 268 dead

CIANJUR, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian rescuers on Tuesday used jackhammers, circular saws and sometimes their bare hands to move rubble from flattened buildings as they searched for the dead and missing in an earthquake that killed at least 268 people.

With many missing, some remote areas still unreachable and more than 1,000 injured in the 5.6 magnitude earthquake, the death toll is likely to rise. Hospitals near the epicenter on the densely populated island of Java were already overwhelmed, and patients hooked up to IVs lay on stretchers and cots in tents set up outside, awaiting further treatment.

Indonesia is frequently hit by earthquakes, many much stronger than Monday’s, the magnitude of which is expected to cause minor damage. But experts said the quake’s shallowness and inadequate infrastructure contributed to the severe damage, including collapsed roofs and large piles of bricks, concrete and corrugated iron.

The quake was centered in the rural and mountainous district of Cianjur, where a woman said her house started “shaking like it was dancing”.

“I was crying and immediately grabbed my husband and children,” said Partinem, who like many Indonesians has only one name. The house collapsed shortly after she ran off with her family.

“If I hadn’t pulled them out, we could have been victims too,” she said, looking over the pile of broken concrete and lumber.

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

The quake struck at a depth of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) and also caused panic in the capital Jakarta, about a three-hour drive away, where skyscrapers rocked and some people were evacuated.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency chief Suharyanto, who uses only one name, told reporters 1,083 people were injured and at least 151 were missing. But not all of the dead have been identified, so it’s possible that some of the bodies pulled from the rubble are of people on the missing list.

Rescue operations have focused on a dozen locations in Cianjur, where people are believed to still be trapped, said Endra Atmawidjaja, spokesman for public works and housing.

“We are racing against time to save people,” Atmawidjaja said.

Early relief efforts were hampered by damaged roads and bridges, power outages and a lack of equipment to move the heavy rubble. Power supply and telephone communications started to improve on Tuesday, and Atmawidjaja said seven excavators and 10 large trucks had been deployed from neighboring areas to clear the streets.

In the village of Cijedil, the quake caused a landslide that blocked roads and buried several houses, said Henri Alfiandi, head of the national search and rescue agency.

“We are maximizing operations in several places where it is suspected that there are still victims. Our team is also trying to reach remote areas,” she said.

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

More than 13,000 people whose homes were badly damaged have been taken to evacuation centres, Kamil said, though thousands spent the night outdoors fearing aftershocks.

Truckloads carrying food, tents, blankets and other supplies from the capital, Jakarta, arrived in temporary shelters early Tuesday.

Outside the Cianjur regional hospital, hundreds waited for treatment.

“I was working inside my office building. The building was not damaged, but as the earthquake shook very hard, many things fell down. My leg was hit by something heavy,” said Dwi Sarmadi, who works for an Islamic educational foundation in a nearby district.

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

Hasan, a construction worker using a name, was also taken to the hospital.

“I passed out. It was very strong,” Hasan recalled. “I saw my friends running to escape the building. But it was too late to go out and I was hit by the wall.

President Joko Widodo visited Cianjur on Tuesday and pledged to rebuild infrastructure, including the main bridge linking Cianjur to other cities, and to provide government assistance of up to 50 million rupees ($3,180) to each resident whose home was damaged.

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

The country of more than 270 million people is frequently hit by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis due to 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 earthquake and tsunami in 2004 killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries, mostly in Indonesia.

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Tarigan reported from Jakarta. Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini of Jakarta, Indonesia contributed to this report.

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