Earthquake in Indonesia: Hundreds dead after magnitude 5.6 tremor, including many school children

Many children killed when their schools collapsed are among 252 dead in an earthquake that devastated a town on Indonesia’s main island of Java, officials say, as rescuers race to reach people trapped in rubble.

Hundreds of people were injured in Monday’s quake, and officials warned the death toll was likely to rise.

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The shallow 5.6 magnitude tremor shook mountains in Indonesia’s most populous province of West Java, causing extensive damage in the town of Cianjur and engulfing at least one village in a landslide.

Landslides and rough terrain hampered rescue efforts, said Henri Alfiandi, head of the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas).

“The challenge is that the affected area is vast… In addition, the roads in these villages are damaged,” Alfiandi told a news conference, adding that more than 13,000 people had been evacuated.

“Most of the victims are children because they were still at school at 1 p.m.,” he said, referring to the time the quake struck.

Earthquake survivors try to collect useful items from the ruins of their home in Cianjur. Recognition: AP

Many of the deaths were due to people being trapped under collapsed buildings, officials said.

President Joko Widodo flew to Cianjur on Tuesday to encourage rescuers.

“My orders are to prioritize the evacuation of victims who are still trapped under rubble,” the president said.

He expressed his condolences to the victims and promised emergency government assistance.

Reconstruction should include earthquake-proof housing, he said.

Rescuers on Tuesday struggled to find more bodies from the rubble of homes and buildings that collapsed as a result of the quake. Recognition: AP

Survivors gathered overnight in a hospital parking lot in Cianjur. Some of the injured were treated in tents, others were hooked up to IVs on the sidewalk while medical workers stitched the patients up by torchlight.

“Everything collapsed under me and I was crushed under this kid,” Cucu, a 48-year-old resident, told Reuters.

“Two of my children survived, I dug them up … Two others I brought here and one is still missing,” she said through tears.

“There are a lot of dead bodies on the hospital grounds. It’s very crowded,” said her relative Hesti.

Footage from Kompas TV showed people holding cardboard signs asking for food and shelter, with emergency supplies apparently yet to reach them.

Hundreds of police officers were deployed to support the rescue operation.

“The main task of the staff today is to focus on evacuating casualties,” Dedi Prasetyo, spokesman for the national police, told state news agency Antara.

While the county government said in a social media post that the death toll had risen to 252, the national disaster agency (BNPB) said the number stood at 103 and 31 were missing. Recognition: AP

The death toll from the earthquake has risen to 252, the district government said in a post on social media. The national disaster agency (BNPB) death toll stood at 103, with 31 missing.

The Cianjur police chief told Metro TV that 20 people had been evacuated from Cugenang district, most of whom died, with local residents reporting missing family members.

The area was hit by a landslide triggered by the quake that had blocked access to the area.

Rescue efforts were complicated by power outages in some areas and more than 100 aftershocks.

Indonesia occupies the so-called Ring of Fire, a highly seismically active zone where different plates of the earth’s crust meet, and has a history of devastating earthquakes.

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James Brien

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