- The death toll from the magnitude 5.6 earthquake is expected to rise
- Dozens remain trapped in the rubble – officials say
CIANJUR, Indonesia, Nov 22 (Reuters) – Children who died when their schools collapsed were responsible for many of the 162 deaths in an earthquake that devastated a town in Indonesia’s main island, Java, an official said on Tuesday, as rescuers rushed to reach people trapped in rubble.
Hundreds of people were injured in Monday’s quake and officials warned the death toll is likely to rise.
The shallow 5.6-magnitude earthquake struck mountains in Indonesia’s most populous province of West Java, causing significant damage to the town of Cianjur and burying at least one village under a landslide.
Landslides and rough terrain hampered rescue efforts, said Henri Alfiandi, head of the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas).
“The challenge is that the affected area is scattered … In addition, the roads in these villages are damaged,” Alfiandi told a news conference, adding that more than 13,000 people had been evacuated.
“Most of the victims are children, because they were still in school at 1 p.m.,” he said, referring to the time when the earthquake struck.
Many of the fatalities resulted from people trapped under collapsed buildings, officials said.
President Joko Widodo flew to Cianjur on Tuesday to encourage rescue workers.
“My instruction is to prioritize the evacuation of victims who are still trapped under the rubble,” said the president, known as Jokowi.
He offered his condolences to the victims and pledged emergency support from the government. Reconstruction should include earthquake-prone housing to protect against future disasters, he said.
Survivors gathered overnight in the parking lot of a hospital in Cianjur. Some of the injured were treated in tents, others were hooked up to intravenous IVs on the sidewalk while medical staff stitched up patients under flashlight light.
“Everything collapsed under me and I was crushed under this child,” Cucu, a 48-year-old resident, told Reuters.
“Two of my children survived, I dug them up… Two others I brought here, and one is still missing,” she said with tears in her eyes.
Images from Kompas TV showed people with cardboard signs asking for food and shelter, while emergency supplies had apparently yet to reach them.
Hundreds of police officers were deployed to help the rescue, Dedi Prasetyo, a national police spokesman told the state news agency Antara.
“Today’s main job assignment for personnel is to focus on evacuating casualties,” he said.
West Java governor Ridwan Kamil said at least 162 people died, many of them children, while the national disaster agency (BNPB) toll stood at 103 and 31 missing.
Authorities expected the number of injuries and deaths to rise, the governor said, with at least one village buried by landslides triggered by the quake.
The Cianjur police chief told Metro TV that 20 people had been evacuated from Cugenang district, most of whom had died, with residents reporting missing relatives.
The area was hit by a landslide caused by the earthquake that had blocked access to the area.
“At least six of my relatives are still missing, three adults and three children,” said Zainuddin, a resident of Cugenang.
“If it was just an earthquake, only the houses would collapse, but this is made worse by the landslide. There were eight houses in this residential area, all of which were buried and swept away.”
Rescue efforts were complicated by power outages in some areas and more than 100 aftershocks.
Indonesia, which straddles the so-called “Ring of Fire,” a highly seismically active zone where several plates of the Earth’s crust meet, has a history of devastating earthquakes.
In 2004, a magnitude 9.1 earthquake off the island of Sumatra in northern Indonesia triggered a tsunami that affected 14 countries and killed 226,000 people.
Reporting by Tommy Adriansyah and Ajeng Dinar Ulfina in Cianjur; and Gayatri Suroyo, Ananda Teresia, Fransiska Nangoy and Bernadette Christina Munthe in Jakarta; Written by Kate Lamb; Edited by Ed Davies and Stephen Coates
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