The death toll from the earthquake that rocked the Indonesian island of Java rose to 268 on Tuesday as more bodies were found under collapsed buildings and 151 people are still missing, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency said.
Agency chief Suharyanto, who like many Indonesians has only one name, told reporters that 1,083 more people were injured in the 5.6-magnitude earthquake that struck near the city of Cianjur on Monday afternoon.
The earthquake sent terrified residents fleeing into the streets, some covered in blood and debris, and caused buildings to collapse around the rural area.
A woman told the Associated Press that when the earthquake hit, her house in Cianjur started “shaking like it was dancing”.
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“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 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 concrete and wood rubble.
In addition to those killed, authorities said more than 300 people were seriously injured and at least 600 others received minor injuries.
In the village of Cijedil, northwest of Cianjur, the quake triggered a landslide that blocked roads and buried several houses, said Henri Alfiandi, head of the National Search and Rescue Agency.
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“We are maximizing operations in several spots where there are still suspected casualties. Our team is also trying to reach remote areas,” he said. “For us all the victims are a priority, our goal is to find them and save lives by evacuating them as soon as possible and obtaining medical assistance”.
With hospitals already overwhelmed, patients lay on stretchers and cots in tents set up outside, with IVs in their arms awaiting further treatment.
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 Governor Ridwan Kamil said.
Early rescue efforts were hampered by damaged roads and bridges, power blackouts, and a lack of heavy equipment to help move the heavy concrete rubble. By Tuesday, power and telephone communications had begun to improve.
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The operations have focused on a dozen locations in Cianjur, where people are still believed to be trapped, said Endra Atmawidjaja, public works and housing spokesman.
“We are racing against time to save people,” Atmawidjaja said, adding that seven excavators and 10 large trucks have been deployed from nearby cities of Bandung and Bogor to continue clearing trees and dirt blocking roads.
Truckloads of food, tents, blankets and other supplies from Jakarta arrived early Tuesday in temporary shelters. However, thousands spent the night outdoors fearing aftershocks.
“The buildings were completely razed to the ground,” said Dwi Sarmadi, who works for an Islamic educational foundation in a nearby district.
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President Joko Widodo visited Cianjur on Tuesday to reassure people about the government’s response to reaching those in need.
“On behalf of myself and 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 football field.
He pledged to rebuild infrastructure, including the main bridge linking Cianjur to other cities, and to provide the government with assistance of up to 50 million rupees ($3,180) to each resident whose home was damaged.
About 175,000 people live in Cianjur, part of the mountainous district of the same name with over 2.5 million inhabitants. Known for their piety, the people of Cianjur mostly live in towns with one- and two-story buildings and in smaller houses in the surrounding countryside.
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Kamil said more than 13,000 people whose homes were severely damaged had been taken to evacuation centres. Outside the Cianjur regional hospital, hundreds waited for treatment.
“I was working inside my office building. The building was not damaged, but because the earthquake shook very hard, many things fell. My leg was hit by heavy material,” Sarmadi said.
He was waiting near a tent outside the hospital after some overwhelmed clinics were unable to see him. Many people were arriving in worse shape. “I really hope they can handle me soon,” he said.
Hasan, a construction worker who, like many Indonesians use only one name, was also one of the survivors who was taken to the hospital.
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“I passed out. It was very strong,” Hasan recalled. “I saw my friends running to escape the building. But it was too late to get out and I was hit by the wall.”
The quake struck at a depth of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). It also caused panic in the greater Jakarta area, about a three-hour drive away, where skyscrapers rocked and some people were evacuated.
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.
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A powerful Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004 killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries, mostly in Indonesia.