Fighting against time, Indonesian rescue teams scrambled on Tuesday to try to help people trapped in rubble after a 5.6-magnitude earthquake devastated parts of West Java, the Asian archipelago’s most populous province, yesterday. . For now, the authorities report that there are at least 162 deaths and hundreds of injuries, but they warn that the numbers could increase as the hours pass.
The epicenter of the earthquake was recorded in the vicinity of the town of Cianjur (170,000 inhabitants), in a mountainous area located about 75 kilometers southeast of the capital, Jakarta. According to the Indonesian Meteorological and Geophysical Agency (BMKG), the tremor occurred at around 1:20 p.m. Monday (local time) at a shallow depth, and was followed by more than 80 aftershocks with magnitudes between 1.8 and 4 on the Richter scale.
The local Sayang hospital in the city was soon overwhelmed, without electricity or enough staff to treat all the victims. “Most have fractures after being found trapped in the rubble of the buildings,” Herman Suherman, head of Cianjur’s administration, told local MetroTV.
During the night, the parking lot of the medical center was overflowing with the wounded. Some were treated in makeshift emergency tents; others were hooked up to intravenous drips or with oxygen masks lying on the pavement. Meanwhile, the health workers sewed up the patients under the light of the lanterns.
“Everything collapsed under my feet and I was crushed under this child,” Cucu, a 48-year-old local resident in the car park, told Reuters. “Two of my children survived, I dug them up… Two more I brought here, and one is still missing,” she said through tears.
Among the fatalities are numerous students from an Islamic boarding school who were caught by the tremor in class and neighbors who were surprised by the collapse of the roofs and walls of their houses. Local television footage showed residents who had lost their homes huddled in the rubble. “The room collapsed and my legs were buried under the rubble. It all happened very quickly,” 14-year-old Aprizal Mulyadi told AFP, who was rescued and brought to safety by one of his friends, Zulfikar, who later died.
According to the authorities, the earthquake caused damage to more than 2,200 buildings – including schools, hospitals and mosques – and more than 13,000 people have been transferred to evacuation centers. In addition, many roads and highways in the region are closed and some power distribution stations were affected, causing power outages in several towns.
Those power outages and poor roads delayed rescue operations overnight. This Tuesday morning, hundreds of agents have been deployed to assist in the rescue efforts. “The main order for today is to focus on the evacuation of the victims,” said Dedi Prasetyo, spokesman for the national police.
Power outages and poor roads delayed rescue operations overnight
Heavier equipment such as shovels and bulldozers were also being seen, with which they try to clear roads blocked by landslides. Faced with the difficulty of navigating those roads at the moment, the Indonesian Red Cross sent several nurses on motorcycles to reach the wounded as soon as possible in four remote areas that would otherwise be inaccessible.
One of those hardest-hit areas is Cugenang, where a large landslide was reported. “At least six of my relatives are still missing, three adults and three children,” local resident Zainuddin told Metro TV channel. “If it had only been an earthquake, only the houses would have collapsed, but this has been made worse by the landslide. In this urbanization there were eight houses, all of them buried and bulldozed now,” he added.
The earthquake was also felt yesterday in Jakarta, causing tremors inside houses and the evacuation of residents and workers from the tallest buildings.
The fourth most populous country in the world (about 275 million inhabitants) and the largest economy in Southeast Asia, Indonesia sits on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, an area of great seismic and volcanic activity in which about 7,000 are recorded each year. earthquakes, most of them moderate.
The Asian country has a devastating record of tragedies: in 2018, a magnitude 7.4 earthquake struck the island of Sulawesi, leaving more than 2,000 dead and more than 200,000 displaced. Last year, 109 people died and 6,500 were injured in four earthquakes that hit Sulawesi again. And in February this year, 25 people died and more than 460 were injured in a tremor in the West Sumatra province.
Still, the worst disaster in living memory occurred in 2004, when a 9.1-magnitude earthquake off the northern island of Sumatra triggered a tsunami that killed 226,000 along the coast of the Indian Ocean, more than half of them in Indonesia.