Indonesia earthquake survivors ask for help as rain hinders rescue

Survivors of an Indonesian earthquake that killed at least 271 people, including many children, pleaded for food and water on Wednesday as heavy rain and aftershocks hampered rescue efforts amid the rubble of the destroyed villages.

The calls for help came as authorities warned debris from landslides caused by the powerful earthquake near the west Java town of Cianjur would need to be cleared as rain threatened a second disaster in the coming weeks.

Two days after the quake leveled their homes, residents were still trying to recover priceless belongings such as family photos, religious books and marriage certificates.

“Although some supplies have arrived, that’s not enough. We have rice, instant noodles, bottled water, but that’s not enough,” Mustafa, a 23-year-old resident of Gasol village, told AFP.

Mustafa had just rummaged through the rubble of an elderly neighbor’s house at her request, emerged from the ruined facade with a pile of clothes, and returned for rice, a gas stove, canisters and frying pans.

In the village of Talaga, some residents put up signs on the windows of damaged houses and on the fronts of tents that read, “We need help!”

At least three people took to the streets holding up boxes and asking for donations. Evacuees crammed under thin tents, unable to move inside from the rain should buildings collapse in an aftershock.

A 3.9-magnitude aftershock caused evacuees to panic and run from temporary shelters on Wednesday, according to an AFP reporter at the scene. By Wednesday evening, the authorities had registered 171 aftershocks.

More than 61,000 people were displaced by the quake, around 2,000 were injured and 40 are missing, the national civil protection agency (BNPB) said on Wednesday.

About a third of the dead found so far are children, said BNPB boss Suharyanto, who, like many Indonesians, has only one name, at a press conference without giving an exact number.

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The government has sent tents and other relief supplies to Cianjur for those displaced, and the military dispatched 12,000 personnel on Wednesday, officials said.

Heavy rain hampered those efforts in about a dozen villages, where more than 22,000 homes had been destroyed.

“For the refugees … their basic living needs must be guaranteed – water, food, these are non-negotiable,” Suharyanto said.

– hamlet buried –

Two villages remain isolated, Henri Alfiandi, head of Indonesia’s search and rescue agency, Basarnas, said in a video posted to social media.

He said he had received reports of villagers being trapped without food and water, with some being forced to sleep next to dead bodies.

“People there can’t even ask for help,” he said, adding that three helicopters would be sent to land help.

Another hamlet in Cugenang district, which was hardest hit by the quake, was buried by a landslide, Muhammad Wachyudin, an official with the Cianjur Disaster Management Agency, told AFP.

Rescuers believed some bodies were buried at Kampung Pos but were unable to reach them.

Indonesia is prone to landslides and flash floods during the rainy season, which has already begun and will peak in West Java in December.

The country’s meteorological agency warned that Cianjur was vulnerable to another disaster.

“We must be vigilant for a possible second disaster like a landslide,” Dwikorita Karnawati, head of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Karnawati said rivers could be blocked by landslides or debris, triggering flash flooding in Cianjur.

“We urgently need to clear material and debris blocking the rivers in the upper hills,” she said.

Indonesia earthquake survivors ask for supplies as rain hampered rescue
An aerial view shows damaged and collapsed houses in Cugenang, Cianjur on November 23, 2022 after a magnitude 5.6 earthquake on November 21. (Photo by ADEK BERRY / AFP)

– ‘Praise be to God!’ –

On Tuesday, Cianjur residents began mourning their loved ones and burying them according to their Islamic beliefs after authorities released them from the mortuary.

Some searched the wreck for belongings. There was a glimmer of hope for one couple.

Mimin, 52, and her husband Rosyid, 67, rummaged through their destroyed home looking for only one item – a valuable two-gram gold ring.

They pulled clothes out of the concrete, banged and shook them until the shiny jewel representing their savings popped out.

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“Praise be to God! I found the ring!” Mimin screamed.

Indonesia is subject to frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where tectonic plates collide.

Monday’s quake was the deadliest in the archipelago since a 2018 earthquake and resulting tsunami that killed more than 4,000 people on the island of Sulawesi.

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