11 July 2024

A powerful earthquake on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island has killed at least 60 people, authorities said Sunday, with thousands left homeless as rescuers raced to find anyone still alive under mountains of rubble more than two days after the disaster.

But monsoon rains were challenging the search effort, as hundreds of injured overwhelmed the only local hospital still operating in the aftermath of the 6.2-magnitude quake, which struck early Friday.

The tremor triggered panic among residents of the island, which was hit by a 2018 quake-tsunami disaster that killed thousands.

Rescuers have been filling body bags with corpses hauled from beneath crumpled buildings in Mamuju, a city of 110,000 people in West Sulawesi province, where a hospital was flattened and a shopping mall lay in ruins.

Others were killed south of the city.

The death toll could still climb.

Excavators, cranes and other heavy equipment were deployed across the devastated seaside city where buildings were reduced to a tangled mass of twisted metal and chunks of concrete, including the regional governor’s office.

It was unclear how many people — dead or alive — could be still under the debris.

“We heard a roaring sound and the house started shaking,” said survivor Jumardi, 50, from a shelter where he and six family members took refuge.

“All I had in my mind was that I would die…Everyone was panicking.”

Authorities have not given a figure for how many survivors have been rescued.

A pair of young sisters plucked from under the mass of concrete and other debris were treated in hospital.

Meanwhile, corpses were recovered from under a collapsed hospital, while five members of a family of eight were found dead in the crumpled remains of their home.

– Running low on food, supplies –

Masked doctors treated patients with broken limbs and other injuries at a makeshift medical centre set up outside the only one of the city’s hospitals that survived the quake relatively intact.

Among them was Wawan, who was rescued by neighbours after the violent tremor buried him.

The 27-year-old initially didn’t want to go into a hospital to treat a broken foot.

“I was traumatised,” said the man, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

“But people convinced me that the doctors were treating patients outside the building, so I agreed to go.”

Thousands left homeless by the quake took to makeshift shelters — many little more than tarpaulin-covered tents filled with whole families.

They said they were running low on food, blankets and other aid, as emergency supplies were rushed to the hard-hit region.

Many survivors are unable to return to their destroyed homes, or were too scared to go back fearing a tsunami sparked by aftershocks, which are common after strong earthquakes.

“It’s better to take shelter before something worse happens,” said Mamuju resident Abdul Wahab, from a tent with his wife and four kids, including a baby.

Fearing an outbreak of coronavirus in the crowded camps, authorities were trying to separate high- and lower-risk groups.

“Covid-19 further complicates (the) emergency response,” said NGO Project HOPE.

– Disaster-prone –

Indonesia, a Southeast Asian archipelago of nearly 270 million, has been hit by a series of natural disasters this week.

Landslides sparked by torrential rains killed at least 28 in Java island, while dozens are dead or missing after severe flooding pounded another part of Sulawesi and Kalimantan, Indonesia’s section of Borneo.

Volcano Mount Semeru shot a plume of ash and debris some 4.5 kilometres (2.8 miles) into the sky Saturday night as bright red lava flowed down its crater. There were no reports of casualties.

Indonesian experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tectonic plates collide.

In 2018, a 7.5-magnitude quake and a subsequent tsunami in Palu on Sulawesi left more than 4,300 people dead or missing.

And on December 26, 2004, a massive 9.1-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra, triggering a tsunami that killed 220,000 throughout the region, including 170,000 in Indonesia — among the worst recorded disasters in history.