Indonesia earthquake death toll has raised to 268, hunt for survivors is on

Rescuers search for victims among the rubble of a collapsed building during a rescue operation after an earthquake hit Qianjur, West Java province, Indonesia, on November 22, 2022.

The death toll from an earthquake in Indonesia’s main island of Java on Tuesday jumped to 268 as rescuers searched for survivors in rubble and relatives began burying loved ones.

With body bags emerging from crumpled buildings in Indonesia’s most populous province of West Java, rescue efforts have turned to survivors under rubble in areas hard to reach due to numerous obstacles thrown on roads by the quake.

The epicenter of Monday’s magnitude 5.6 shallow earthquake struck near the town of Cianjur and is feared to have killed most victims, injured hundreds and trapped dozens as buildings collapsed and landslides set off.

The death toll has risen sharply again since Tuesday, from 162 to 268, Suharyanto, head of Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), said at a news conference.

At least 151 people are missing and more than 1,000 injured, the official, a favorite of many Indonesians, said went by one name.

“There is still a focus on finding and evacuating victims. That’s a priority,” he said. “I hope everyone will be found when the emergency response is over.”

Relatives of Hussain, a 48-year-old victim who died while building a house in an earthquake in a burial ground in a village near Qianzur, burst into hysterical wails even before the body was buried.

“I lost a brother 10 days ago. Now I have lost another brother,” said his sister Siti Rohmah, sobbing uncontrollably.

“I kept waiting, hoping he would survive and nothing bad would happen to him.”

Dimas Reviansyah, 34, one of dozens of rescue workers, said the team was using chainsaws and excavators to break down piles of fallen trees and rubble in the search for survivors.

He said, “I haven’t slept a wink since yesterday, but I have to keep going because there are still victims who have not been found.”

Drone footage shot by AFP showed the extent of the quake-induced landslides, with brown earthen walls interspersed only by workers using heavy equipment to clear roads.

President Joko Widodo visited the region on Tuesday, offering compensation to victims and directing disaster and relief agencies to “mobilize people.”

According to the head of Indonesia’s national rescue agency, Basarnas, many of the dead were children.

“They were at school at 1pm and they were still studying,” Henri Alpiandi said at a press conference.

Some of the dead were students at an Islamic boarding school, while others died in their homes when roofs and walls collapsed.

Tuesday’s search operation was made more difficult by disconnected roads and temporary power outages in parts of the mostly rural, mountainous region.

Those who survived camped outside in near-total darkness surrounded by fallen rubble, shattered glass, and chunks of concrete.

After an earthquake that felt as far away as the capital, Jakarta, doctors treated patients in makeshift outdoor wards.

A father carried his dead son wrapped in white cloth through the streets of a village near Cianjur.

Others were looking for missing relatives in the chaos.

62 Aftershock Rock Cianjur
The devastation caused by the earthquake was compounded by 62 small aftershocks that relentlessly shook Cianjur, a city of about 1.75,000 people.

The Geological Office of Indonesia’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources said in an analysis posted online Monday that the composition of the soil in the area may have exacerbated the quake’s effects.

It said the region’s “undulating hills” are composed of “weathered” and “young” volcanic debris.

“These deposits are usually soft, loose, unconsolidated, and can intensify the effects of impact, making them earthquake-prone,” he said.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albaniz and Russian President Vladimir Putin joined Canadian and French leaders on Tuesday to offer their condolences.

Indonesia is located on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tectonic plates collide and is subject to frequent seismic and volcanic activity.

A magnitude 6.2 earthquake that struck the island of Sulawesi in January 2021 killed more than 100 people and left thousands homeless.

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