Indonesia Struggles to Recover Dead, Rescue Quake Survivors

Anton Muhajir
North Lombok, Indonesia
180807-ID-quake-lede-10001.jpg Relatives react as rescuers recover the bodies of victims killed in an earthquake in North Lombok, Indonesia, Aug. 7, 2018.

Juanda continued praying, at first, when the mosque started shaking.

But as soon as the walls rattled, Juanda sprinted toward the door while other worshippers behind him screamed. He leapt toward his motorcycle just as the walls of the building began to buckle.

He never reached it.

The two-story Jabal Nur Mosque collapsed almost like a pancake, burying his motorcycle. Its green dome fell flat on the ground.

“Just a little closer and I might have died,” said Juanda, who uses only one name, like many Indonesians.

Juanda recalled the speed with which Sunday’s 6.9 magnitude earthquake toppled buildings and left thousands homeless in North Lombok, near the epicenter of the devastating temblor.

He said about 100 people were performing nighttime prayers inside the mosque when the temblor struck, but wasn’t sure how many were trapped.

Hours after Juanda's interview with BenarNews on Tuesday, soldiers posted on social media a video of a man wearing a prayer cap being pulled alive from the rubble. He appeared disoriented as he staggered away from the ruins and repeatedly raised his arms, palms open, as if thanking his rescuers. "Thank God," some rescuers said, "thank God."

Scores of volunteers, soldiers and police officers swarmed around the flattened building on Tuesday afternoon, combing through the rubble with two excavators. In another mosque, about 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) away, volunteers sifted through the debris using only hand tools.

The death toll stood at 105 on Tuesday afternoon and more than 200 were injured, according to Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency, BNPB. That figure was expected to increase, officials said.

Anak Agung Alit Supartana, chief of the region's Search and Rescue Agency office, told reporters two people had been found alive at the Jabal Nur Mosque as of Tuesday evening. Three bodies had been recovered, he said.

The quake, which struck at a shallow depth of 10.5 kilometers (6.5 miles), was initially recorded at magnitude 7.0, but the Colorado-based U.S. Geological Survey had revised it down to 6.9.

It hit the northern parts of Lombok, where at least 78 bodies have been recovered, a week after a magnitude 6.4 quake surged through the island and killed 20 people, authorities said.

Sunday’s quake triggered a brief tsunami warning and was felt on neighboring Bali and Gili islands, as well as other parts of East Java. There have been as many as 230 aftershocks, according to seismologists.

“We are concerned aid trucks can't get through because of the debris, and there are also landslides happening,” Husni Husni, a Jakarta-based spokesman for the Red Cross, told CNN. “The army has been trying to clear up to make a corridor for trucks to pass through.”

Authorities said more than 20,000 people lost their homes in northern Lombok, a mountainous region with a population of about 200,000.

Local residents told reporters they urgently need food, medicine and clean water as a humanitarian crisis loomed for thousands left homeless by the disaster. Drinking water is scarce as the quake broke pipes in the villages.

At Jami’ul Jamaah Mosque in Karang Pangsor village, worshippers were also praying inside when the quake caused its roof, upper floors and walls to collapse.

“I got stepped on because all the worshippers were panicking as they tried to leave,” Ama Yusron told BenarNews. He was not hurt.

He said about 30 women were among inside the mosque that night – in the women’s section at the back. Due to their location, they would have had the most difficulty leaving, he said.

At midday Tuesday, rescuers clawed through slabs of concrete and twisted rebar at the mosque, but workers did not have any heavy machinery. The slow rescue effort underscored the challenges the nation faced as it struggled to cope with another natural disaster.

“Up until about 9 o’clock this morning, we still heard calls for help, but we don’t hear them anymore,” Sonihadi, the village chief, told BenarNews.

Rescuers search for survivors under concrete and twisted rebar of the Jabal Nur Mosque in Lading-Lading town of North Lombok, Indonesia, Aug. 7, 2018. [Anton Muhajir/BenarNews]
Rescuers search for survivors under concrete and twisted rebar of the Jabal Nur Mosque in Lading-Lading town of North Lombok, Indonesia, Aug. 7, 2018. [Anton Muhajir/BenarNews]

Cracked roads

Almost every building along the main road of Lombok’s capital, Mataram, to the town of Tanjung in the north, about 43 kilometers (27 miles) away, was damaged: homes, mosques, hotels, restaurants. The road itself was cracked in several places.

Many structures with thin cement walls have been flattened.

Fahriyah, who lives and works near where a ferry departs for the three small islands off the north coast, saw her shop-house destroyed. The islands are popular among divers and snorkelers because of their crystal-clear waters.

“There’s nothing left. It’s all destroyed. But … all my kids and workers are safe,” she said, as she surveyed the rubble of her home in Bangsal village.

Tourists talk about horrifying experience

Thousands of foreign tourists were also impacted by the quake.

Australian tourists Gillian and Michael Harvey, who were traveling with their two small children, described how they had spent more than 10 hours getting to the island of Gili Trawangan.on Sunday, and had only been there for a couple of hours when the quake hit.

“We were only out [of our accommodation for] 15 minutes before it happened, we were so lucky we were not inside as some of the restaurant's roofs had fallen down and crushed people,” Gillian told Australia’s ABC News.

She said there was widespread panic on the beach as they feared a tsunami was on its way.

"Then someone said the tsunami warning had been triggered and everyone was running for high ground,” she said. “The only problem with getting to the hill was we had to walk through buildings and pass all of the dead and injured bodies and that was horrible.”

Beth Melluish and Isabelle Farrow of London were also vacationing on Gili Trawangan when the quake struck. The two suffered cuts to their knees from fragments of a hotel wall.

“I climbed a tree,” Beth told BenarNews. “I was so afraid of a tsunami.”

Indonesia straddles the so-called Ring of Fire, a major area in the basin of the Pacific Ocean where about 90 percent of earthquakes occur, according to seismologists.

On Dec. 26, 2004, about 130,000 people died in Indonesia’s westernmost province of Aceh when a magnitude 9.1 earthquake occurred off the west coast of Sumatra, spawning a series of devastating tsunamis.

Like many villagers traumatized by roars of aftershocks, Melluish and Farrow said they slept on the beach with three friends when they were certain the danger of a tsunami had passed – none materialized after the Aug. 5 quake. A boat evacuated them the next day.

About 75 percent of North Lombok has been without electricity since Sunday, officials said. Along the island’s scenic northwest coastal road, thousands of people were sleeping outside their homes.

Boats were still ferrying tourists out of the three Gili islands at midday Tuesday, with two central government ministers – Coordinating Political, Security and Legal Affairs Minister Wiranto and Minister of Social Affairs Idrus Marham – watching the proceedings at Bangsal Port on Tuesday.

About 7,000 foreign and domestic tourists have been evacuated from the three islands, Wiranto said.

“We have to make sure they are all handled properly – [taken] wherever they want to go and given every assistance,” he said.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman of the disaster mitigation agency, told reporters that damaged bridges were frustrating efforts to send aid in some villages in North Lombok and in other heavily affected areas west of the island.

"They have not been touched by any assistance," he said. "All shops and stalls there are closed, making the economy totally crippled."

Rescue workers search for survivors in the rubbles of a building that pancaked after powerful earthquake struck North Lombok in Indonesia’s West Nusa Tenggara province, Aug. 7, 2018. [Anton Muhajir/BenarNews]
Rescue workers search for survivors in the rubbles of a building that pancaked after powerful earthquake struck North Lombok in Indonesia’s West Nusa Tenggara province, Aug. 7, 2018. [Anton Muhajir/BenarNews]


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