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Indonesian rescuers 'racing with time' for survivors after Java quake kills over 160

Associated Press - November 22, 2022

Edna Tarigan and FirmanTaufiq, Cianjur, Indonesia – Indonesia's President Joko Widodo said his government would hand out compensation to victims and their families after an earthquake struck the country's most populous province, killing at least 162.

Widodo visited the epicentre of the quake, the town of Cianjur in West Java province, and ordered rescue teams to prioritise saving people trapped under rubble and to urgently access areas blocked off by landslides.

Rescuers on Tuesday struggled to find more bodies from the rubble of homes and buildings toppled by the earthquake 5.6 land-based quake struck on Monday afternoon. Hundreds were injured.

Damaged roads and bridges, power blackouts and lack of heavy equipment previously hampered rescuers after the quake set off a landslide that blocked streets and buried several houses and motorists.

Power supplies and phone communications began to improve in the quake-hit areas on Tuesday rescue efforts were complicated by some 117 aftershocks.

Many of the dead were public school students who had finished their classes for the day and were taking extra lessons at Islamic schools when the buildings collapsed, West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil said as he announced the latest death toll in the remote, rural area.

Hospitals were overwhelmed by injured people, and the toll was expected to rise. No estimates were immediately available because of the area's far-flung, rural population, but many structures collapsed, and residents and emergency workers braced for grim news.

Operations were focused on about a dozen locations in Cianjur, where people are still believed trapped, said Endra Atmawidjaja, the Public Works and Housing spokesperson.

"We are racing with time to rescue people," Atmawidjaja said, adding that seven excavators and 10 large trucks have been deployed from neighbouring Bandung and Bogor cities to continue clearing trees and soils that blocked roads linking Cianjur and Cipanas towns.

Cargo trucks carrying food, tents, blankets and other supplies from the capital, Jakarta, were arriving early Tuesday for distribution in temporary shelters. Still, thousands spent the night in the open fearing aftershocks.

"Buildings were completely flattened," said Dwi Sarmadi, who works for an Islamic educational foundation in a neighbouring district.

Roughly 175,000 people live in the town of Cianjur, part of a mountainous district of the same name with more than 2.5 million people. Known for their piety, the people of Cianjur live mostly in towns of one- and two-storey buildings and in smaller homes in the surrounding countryside.

Kamil said that more than 13,000 people whose homes were heavily damaged were taken to evacuation centres.

Emergency workers treated the injured on stretchers and blankets outside hospitals, on terraces and in parking lots. The injured, including children, were given oxygen masks and IV lines. Some were resuscitated.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the Cianjur regional hospital building, waiting for treatment.

"I was working inside my office building. The building was not damaged, but as the quake shook very strongly, many things fell. My leg was hit by heavy stuff," Sarmadi said.

Sarmadi was waiting near a tent outside the hospital after some overwhelmed clinics were unable to see him. Many people were coming in worse shape. "I really hope they can handle me soon," he said.

Hasan, a construction worker who, like many Indonesians, uses one name, is also one of the survivors that is being taken to the hospital.

"I fainted. It was very strong," said Hasan. "I saw my friends running to escape from the building. But it was too late to get out and I was hit by the wall."

The magnitude 5.6 quake hit at a depth of 10 kilometres below the Earth's surface, according to the US Geological Survey. It also caused panic in the greater Jakarta area, about a three hour-drive away, where high-rises swayed and some people evacuated.

In many homes in Cianjur, chunks of concrete and roof tiles fell inside bedrooms. Shopkeeper Dewi Risma was working with customers when the quake hit, and she ran for the exit.

"The vehicles on the road stopped because the quake was very strong," she said. "I felt it shook three times, but the first one was the strongest one for around 10 seconds. The roof of the shop next to the store I work in had collapsed, and people said two had been hit."

The country of more than 270 million people is frequently struck by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis because of 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 quake and tsunami in 2004 killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Indonesia.

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/earthquake-shakes-indonesia-s-java-island-killing-at-least-46-20221121-p5c04t.html