Hunt for buried survivors after Indonesia quake

Published January 16, 2021, 4:20 PM

by Agence France-Presse

Rescuers scrambled to find buried survivors Saturday after a powerful earthquake on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island killed dozens, injured hundreds and left more feared trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings.

Rescuers search for survivors at a collapsed building in Mamuju city on January 16, 2021, a day after a 6.2-magnitude earthquake rocked Indonesia’s Sulawesi island. (Photo by Hariandi Hafid / AFP)

At least 45 people died after the 6.2-magnitude quake struck in the early hours of Friday, triggering panic among residents of the island, which was hit by a 2018 quake-tsunami disaster that killed thousands.

Search-and-rescue worked through the night as they pulled dozens of bodies from beneath crumpled buildings in Mamuju, a city of about 110,000 people in West Sulawesi province, where a hospital was flattened and a shopping mall was left in ruins.

Others were killed south of the city after the quake struck, as a strong aftershock jolted the disaster-hit region Saturday morning.

Planes and boats packed with food and other emergency supplies were arriving as thousands left homeless by the quake flocked to makeshift shelters, many little more than tarpaulin-covered tents.

“We need more equipment for the rescue effort,” said Ali Rahman, chief of the local disaster agency.

“Now, we’re focusing on two locations” in the hunt for survivors, he added.

Authorities have not given a figure for the number of residents who could still be trapped under crushed buildings, including the hospital that collapsed with more than a dozen patients and staff inside.

On Saturday, authorities said they had pulled eight corpses from under the building, while five members of a family of eight were found dead in the crumpled remains of their home.

Among the Mamuju survivors was a pair of young sisters plucked from under the mass of concrete and other debris. The pair are now being treated in hospital.

Nearly 200 people were hospitalised for serious injuries, local authorities said.

– ‘Heartfelt solidarity’ –

The Pope said he was “saddened” to learn of the quake.

“His Holiness Pope Francis expresses his heartfelt solidarity with all those affected by this natural disaster,” the Vatican said in a statement.

“He prays for the repose of the deceased, the healing of the injured and the consolation of all who grieve.”

On Friday, residents tried to flee Mamuju in cars and motorbikes as they drove past corrugated metal roofs and other building debris scattered on the roadside. 

But landslides triggered by heavy rains and the quake blocked the main access road out of the seaside city.

The meteorological agency warned residents about strong aftershocks and to avoid the beachfront in case they sparked a tsunami.

The city’s airport had also been damaged, while the regional governor’s office was also partly destroyed, authorities said.

Power remained out in parts of Mamuju after the quake damaged its electricity grid.

The Indonesian Red Cross said it was rushing medical and relief supplies to the scene, with its teams working to help find trapped residents.

Save the Children warned that the young were among the most at risk.

“While the extent of the earthquake damage is still unclear, we know children are often the most vulnerable following disaster,” it said.

“It will be essential that children are prioritised in any response, as they may have witnessed the death of loved ones or become separated from their parents.”

The quake’s epicentre was 36 kilometres (22 miles) south of Mamuju and it had a relatively shallow depth of 18 kilometres.

Indonesia, a sprawling Southeast Asian archipelago of nearly 270 million, experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tectonic plates collide. 

In 2018, a 7.5-magnitude quake and a subsequent tsunami in Palu on Sulawesi left more than 4,300 people dead or missing.

On December 26, 2004, a 9.1-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra and triggered a tsunami that killed 220,000 throughout the region, including around 170,000 in Indonesia.

 
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