Indonesia quake toll soars above 250 amid frantic search for survivors
MEDAN, Indonesia - When the building around journalist Nandang Kurnaedi began to shake wildly on Monday afternoon his first thoughts were immediately of his wife and children at home. They managed to escape the devastating tremor that slammed the Indonesian district of Cianjur but their neighbors were not so lucky.
"My wife and children watched as a mudslide washed away our neighbors' house with them inside it," he said. "I don't know why they couldn't get out in time." The mother and her three children were eventually found in the mud and laid out in the main square of the village along with the others who had died, further traumatizing Kunaedi's own two children who watched it all unfold.
By Tuesday the toll had risen to 268 dead in the 5.6-magnitude earthquake whose shallow depth of just six miles ensure maximum havoc. It wasn't just the collapsing buildings that claimed lives, said local authorities, but the landslides that buried whole villages and destroyed roads.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Suharyanto, the head of the National Agency for Disaster Countermeasure (BNPB), said "as many as 122 have been identified."
The regional governor, Ridwan Kamil also said that the majority of the dead were children, but the Abdul Muhari, of the national disaster agency, said it was too early to tell."We are waiting for the hospitals in Cianjur to send us the data that they have about the sex and ages of the victims," Muhari said.
The early afternoon timing of the quake did seem to have caught many children at school or on their way to additional lessons.
Faisal Syahreza, a writer from Cikaroya village said many children were among those injured as they had been at school or on their way home when the quake hit.
"It was a busy time for them in the middle of the afternoon," he said, adding that the children in his village seem to be in a state of shock and were afraid to go home for fear that their houses would collapse on them. "They will need help to get over what happened and accept it."
Located about 45 miles away from the capital, Jakarta, the Cianjur area is home to about 2.2 million residents. Monday's quake, which reduced rows of buildings into rubble and briefly cut off electricity to entire communities, could be the deadliest one in Indonesia since 2018, when twin disasters - a 7.5-magnitude earthquake followed by a tsunami - killed more than 2,000 on the central island of Sulawesi.
At least 13 schools were affected and more than 7,000 people have been displaced from their homes, according to Muhari's agency. Officials are now in need of emergency supply items like tarpaulins, tents, medicine and drinking water, he said.
By Tuesday, rescue efforts were slowing gaining pace with trucks and earthmovers brought in from nearby cities to search for victims beneath the mud and rubble and clear blocked roads.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited Cianjur on Tuesday, promising reconstruction and aid to the affected families."My instruction is to prioritize evacuating victims that are still trapped under rubble," he said in remarks carried by the Reuters news agency.
Like many of those whose homes were destroyed by the quake, Kurnaedi's family is now sleeping in tents made of tarpaulins which have been lashed together in the main square along with the other displaced.
At night, the winds make the temporary shelters uncomfortably cold for the children, and he hoped that the government would soon send blankets, tents and other equipment.
"We have nowhere else to go," he said.
Rebecca Tan reported from Singapore.