Indonesia earthquake survivors plead for help as rains hamper rescue operations

Survivors of the Indonesian earthquake that killed at least 271 people, many of them children, appealed Wednesday for food and water as heavy rains and aftershocks hampered rescue efforts amid the rubble of devastated villages.

The calls for help came as authorities warned that debris from landslides triggered by the powerful earthquake near the town of Cianjur in West Java must be cleared as rains expected in the coming weeks threaten a second disaster.

Two days after the earthquake destroyed their homes, residents are still trying to recover their priceless possessions including family photos, religious books and marriage certificates.

Although some supplies arrive, it is not enough. “We got rice, instant noodles and mineral water, but it’s not enough,” Mustafa, 23, a resident of Jasol village, told AFP.

Mustafa had just dug through the rubble of an elderly neighbour’s house at her request, emerging from the ruined facade with a pile of clothes before returning to collect rice, a gas stove, bowls and pans.

In the village of Talaja, some residents put up signs on the windows of damaged homes and on the front of tents that read, “We need help!”

In the streets, at least three people carried cardboard boxes asking for donations. Evacuees were crammed under flimsy tents, unable to move inside from the rain in case buildings collapsed from aftershocks.

A shallow 3.9-magnitude aftershock caused panicked people to flee shelters on Wednesday, according to an AFP correspondent on the scene. The authorities recorded 171 aftershocks as of Wednesday evening.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said on Wednesday that more than 61,000 people were displaced by the quake, some 2,000 were injured and 40 are missing.

Without providing an exact number, he believes about a third of the dead so far are children, BNPB chairman Suharyanto, who like many Indonesians uses one name, told a news conference.

Also read: Indonesia earthquake death toll jumps to 268, and rescue workers are searching for survivors

Officials said the government had sent tents and other supplies to Cianjur for the displaced, and the army deployed 12,000 personnel on Wednesday.

Heavy rains hampered those efforts in about 12 villages, with more than 22,000 homes destroyed.

“For the refugees… their basic life necessities – water and food – must be guaranteed, and this is non-negotiable,” Suharyanto said.

– Hamlet’s burial –

Two villages remain isolated, said Henry Alviandi, head of Indonesia’s Basarnas Search and Rescue Authority, in a video posted on social media.

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

“People there can’t even ask for help,” he said, adding that three helicopters had been sent to drop the aid.

Another small village in Koginang district, which was worst affected by the quake, was buried by the landslide, Muhammad Washiuddin, an official with the Cianjur Disaster Mitigation Agency, told AFP.

Rescue workers believed that some bodies were buried in Kampung Bose but they could not reach them.

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

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

“We have to be vigilant about a possible second disaster, such as a landslide,” Dwikorita Karnawati, head of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, told a news conference on Tuesday.

Karnawati said landslides or debris could block rivers and cause flash floods in Cianjur.

“We urgently need to remove the materials and debris that are blocking the flow of rivers in the upper hills,” she said.

An aerial view shows destroyed and collapsed homes in Koginang, Cianjur on November 23, 2022, following a 5.6-magnitude earthquake on November 21. (Photo by ADEK BERRY/AFP)

– ‘Thank God!’ –

On Tuesday, residents of Cianjur began mourning their loved ones, burying them according to their Islamic faith after authorities released them from the morgue.

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

Mimmin, 52, and her husband, Roseid, 67, roamed their ruined home looking for just one item – a two-gram gold ring.

They pulled clothes out of the concrete and patted and shook them until the shiny piece of jewelry that represented their savings came out.

Also read: 10 people, including students, are killed in a truck crash outside a school in Indonesia

“Thank God! I found the ring!” exclaimed Maimin.

Indonesia experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its location on the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire,” where tectonic plates collide.

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

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