Quake rescue efforts in Indonesia focus on landslide-hit villages

Monday’s earthquake unleashed dangerous landslides which swept dozens of homes down the mountainsides.

A traumatised relative as rescuers dig for survivors at the site of a landslide in West Java. He looks devastated
Landslides triggered by the quake buried houses around Cianjur on the west of heavily populated Java island [Wahyu Putro A/Antara Foto via Reuters]

Traumatised relatives are awaiting news of loved ones missing after an earthquake hit the town of Cianjur in Indonesia’s West Java on Monday, unleashing landslides thought to have buried nearby villages.

More heavy machinery was deployed to clear the landslides on Wednesday with the death toll from the magnitude 5.6 quake reaching 268. More than 150 people are missing.

One of the worst-hit districts is Cugenang, where it is believed at least one village was buried by a landslide.

“If it was just an earthquake, only the houses would collapse, but this is worse because of the landslide,” said Zainuddin, who was searching for six missing relatives.

“In this residential area, there were eight houses, all of which were buried and swept away.”

More than 1,000 police officers have been deployed to bolster search and rescue teams.

Al Jazeera’s Jessica Washington, who is in nearby Cejedil village, said about 25 houses there had been swept towards the river below by the collapsing earth. About five bodies had been found, she said, as rescue workers and residents dug through the mud to find survivors.

“Everywhere there are the items of everyday life – children’s toys, plates and other things – looking almost untouched,” she said.

Rescue workers and local people dig through the brown mud to try and find survivors after Monday's earthquake unleashed devastating landslides
In Cejedil village, rescuers and relatives have so far found five bodies [Jessica Washington/Al Jazeera]

Indonesia is one of the most earthquake-prone countries on Earth and regularly records stronger offshore earthquakes. But Monday’s tremor was particularly deadly as it struck in a densely populated area at a shallow depth of just 10km (6 miles).

Officials also said poor building standards led to many deaths.

During a visit on Tuesday to Cianjur, about 75km (45 miles) south of the capital, Jakarta, President Joko Widodo called for reconstruction efforts to include earthquake-proof housing.

Resident Asih Winarsih and her family are taking temporary shelter in a tent. She told Al Jazeera she was scared to return to her home, after many houses, particularly those made of brick, were damaged in the tremor.

“In my village, many houses are damaged, there are people killed too,” she said. “My mother’s house is made of brick and it’s damaged. Mine is wooden, so it’s not broken, but the ground is cracked.”

The quake also damaged hospitals and health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said there was an urgent need to ensure doctors were able to perform surgery on the most badly injured people.

“My priority is no more deaths,” he said during a visit to the disaster zone.

“The first priority is to make sure that badly injured patients are being taken care of so they can survive.”

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters