Indonesia quake - death toll rises

Last updated 16:30 03/09/2009

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Rescuers continue to dig through rocks and debris with their bare hands in search of dozens of villagers believed buried in a landslide triggered by a strong Indonesian earthquake that killed at least 46 people and caused widespread damage.

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A spokesman for New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said only one New Zealander was registered as being in the earthquake zone and had since been confirmed safe.  

The Ministry had received no other calls for assistance or reports of missing New Zealanders.

The New Zealand embassy in Indonesia would continue to make enquiries, the spokesman said.

At least 110 people were hospitalised with injuries from the 7.0 magnitude quake just off the coast of densely populated Java island, Disaster Management Agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono said, adding that 10 were in critical condition.

The earthquake Wednesday afternoon caused destruction across West Java province, where 700 buildings toppled or were badly damaged. Many of the deaths and injuries were caused by falling debris or collapsed walls and roofs.

In the village of Cikangkareng in Cianjur district, a landslide buried a row of homes under tons of rock and mud. At least 13 bodies were recovered and villagers were searching for dozens of people believed missing, Kardono said.

"Everything is gone, my wife, my old father-in-law and my house. . . now I just hope to find the bodies of my family," farmer Ahmad Suhana, 34, said as he pried at giant stones with a crowbar.

Heavy digging equipment had not reached the remote village, which President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was to visit later Thursday. Police, military personnel and villagers used their hands.

Maskana Sumitra, a district administrator, said 11 houses and a mosque were buried by the landslide and estimated that more than 50 people were trapped and feared dead.

"The chance of survival is so slim. . . but we have to find them," Sumitra said.

The prolonged shaking from the quake was felt hundreds of kilometres away on the neighbouring resort island of Bali.

In the capital, Jakarta, 190 kilometres north, thousands of panicked office workers flooded out of swaying skyscrapers on to the streets, some of them screaming.

The Disaster Management Agency said at least 46 people were confirmed dead.

"The earthquake was shaking everything in my house very strongly for almost a minute," Heni Maryani, a resident of the town of Sukabumi, told el Shinta radio. "I grabbed my children and ran out. I saw people were in panic. Women were screaming and children were crying."

Hospitals quickly filled with scores of injured people, most of them with broken bones and cuts.

A tsunami warning was issued after the quake struck at mid afternoon but was lifted an hour later. Several dozen aftershocks were measured by geological agencies.

Reuters reporters at the scene early on Thursday morning saw many damaged houses, as well as makeshift tents and shelters on the streets and in fields.

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"They have taken refuge not only because their houses were ruined, but also because they fear there will be aftershocks," said local official Obar Sobarna. There were about 5000 people taking refuge in the area, he added.

The health ministry said it was sending medical teams to the affected areas in West Java. State news agency Antara reported that villagers were clearing rubble from collapsed buildings to try to find survivors and bodies.


Indonesia's 17,000 islands are scattered along a belt of volcanic and seismic activity known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, one of the most quake-prone places on earth.

More than 170,000 Indonesians were killed or listed missing after a 9.15 magnitude earthquake off Indonesia's Aceh province on Sumatra triggered a tsunami in December 2004. A total of 230,000 people died in affected Indian Ocean countries.

Indonesia's seismology agency put the magnitude of Wednesday's quake at 7.3 with the epicentre 142km  southwest of Tasikmalaya, in West Java.

"Many houses are flattened to the ground," said Edi Sapuan in Margamukti village, not far from Tasikmalaya. "Only the wooden houses remain standing. Many villagers are injured, covered in blood."

"We ran as soon as the quake hit. Then five minutes later my house collapsed," Edi told Reuters.

The quake was felt as far away as Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city, about 500km northeast of Tasikmalaya, and on the resort island of Bali, about 700km to the east.

Indonesia's main power, oil and gas, steel, and mining companies with operations in West and Central Java island closest to the quake's epicentre said they had not been affected and suffered no damage.

At least 38 people were injured in Jakarta, a health ministry official said. Buildings shook and thousands of people streamed onto the streets from office and apartment blocks, residents in Jakarta said.

"The chandelier started moving and it started shaking really strong," said Jakarta resident Victor Chan, who lives in a 34th floor apartment. "It lasted quite long. I was really scared and rushed downstairs."

"Everything was shaking and my neighbour shouted 'quake, quake'," said Nur Syara, from the 31st floor of the same building. "You could hear the walls creaking. I lay down on the floor. I was scared things would collapse."
 government agencies said early on Thursday morning.


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