Indonesian rescue workers focus on landslides as quake numbers mount

A man carries his injured daughter on the way to a temporary shelter for those displaced by Monday’s earthquake in Cianjur, West Java, Indonesia, Thursday. The 5.6 magnitude earthquake left hundreds dead, injured and missing as buildings collapsed and terrified residents ran for their lives on Indonesia’s main island of Java. (Tatan Syuflana, Associated Press)

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CIANJUR, Indonesia — On the fourth day of an increasingly urgent search, Indonesian rescue workers on Thursday focused on a landslide that was believed to have trapped dozens of people, after an earthquake killed at least 272 people, more than a third of them children.

Many of the more than 1,000 rescuers used backhoes, sniffer dogs and life detectors — as well as their bare hands — to search the hardest-hit area of ​​the village of Cijendil in the mountainous Cianjur district, where a landslide triggered by Monday’s quake left tons of mud in its wake , rocks and broken trees.

Suharyanto, chief of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, said rescuers plan to use more heavy equipment to search the landslide after using maximum human force.

“Hopefully in the next two days, if the weather is good, we can use heavy equipment and find more victims,” ​​Suharyanto said.

Rescue efforts were temporarily suspended on Wednesday as heavy monsoon rains fell.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited Cianjur on Thursday and said rescuers were targeting a place where 39 people are missing.

“The search process will be our priority for now,” Widodo said. “The ground is unstable, so you have to be careful,” he warned.

He said distributing aid has been difficult because the injured and displaced are widely dispersed and difficult to reach.

“We hope that all victims can be found soon,” said Henri Alfiandi, head of the National Search and Rescue Agency.

On Wednesday, searchers freed a 6-year-old boy trapped under the rubble of his collapsed home for two days.

Data from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency showed that 100 of the 272 confirmed deaths were children.

Monday’s magnitude 5.6 quake injured more than 2,000 people, damaged at least 56,000 homes and displaced at least 62,000 people to evacuation centers and other emergency shelters. The agency said 171 public facilities were destroyed, including 31 schools.

Suharyanto, who uses only one name like many Indonesians, said authorities would review the damage to the homes so reconstruction can begin soon and evacuees can return home.

An earthquake of this magnitude is not normally expected to cause serious damage. But Monday’s quake was shallow, shaking a densely populated area that lacks earthquake-resistant infrastructure. Mild aftershocks continued Thursday morning.

More than 2.5 million people live in the district of Cianjur, around 175,000 of them in the capital of the same name.

Widodo has pledged to rebuild infrastructure and provide up to $3,180 in aid to each resident whose home was damaged.

Indonesia is prone to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis because it lies on the arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin known as the “Ring of Fire”.

Contribute: Edna Tarigan, Associated Press


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