Rescue underway as quake kills scores
Region in urgent need for emergency supplies and excavation equipment to move heavy debris
A strong undersea earthquake rocked Indonesia’s Aceh province early on Wednesday, killing nearly 100 people and sparking a frantic rescue effort in the rubble of dozens of collapsed and damaged buildings.
Major General Tatang Sulaiman, chief of the army in Aceh province, said at least 97 died while four people were pulled from the rubble alive. Another four or five are still believed to be buried, but didn’t say if they are dead or alive.
“Hopefully we would be able to finish the evacuation from the rubble before sunset,” Sulaiman said.
The rescue effort involving thousands of villagers, soldiers and police is concentrated on Meureudu, a severely affected town in Pidie Jaya district. Excavators were trying to remove debris from shop houses and other buildings where people were believed buried. TV footage showed rescuers in orange uniforms shining flashlight into the interiors of broken buildings as they searched for signs of life.
The National Disaster Mitigation Agency said 273 people were injured, about a quarter of them seriously. Some 245 buildings were seriously damaged or destroyed, mostly in Pidie Jaya, including 14 mosques and the remainder largely dwellings and shop houses. Roads also cracked and power poles toppled over.
Aiyub Abbas, the chief of Pidie Jaya district, which is located 18 kilometers southwest of the epicenter, said there was urgent need for excavation equipment to move heavy debris and emergency supplies. Footage showed rescue personnel taking bodies in black bags away from the rubble.
The US Geological Survey said the shallow magnitude-6.5 earthquake that struck at 5:03 am was centered about 19 km southeast of Sigli, a town on the northern tip of Aceh, at a depth of 17 km. It did not generate a tsunami.
For Acehnese, the quake was a terrifying reminder of their region’s vulnerability to natural disasters. More than 100,000 died in Aceh after the Dec 26, 2004, earthquake triggered a devastating tsunami.
“It was very bad, the tremors felt even stronger than 2004 earthquake,” said Musman Aziz, a Meureudu resident. “I was so scared the tsunami was coming.”
In the capital Jakarta, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said he has ordered all government agencies to take part in the rescue efforts. The Indonesian Red Cross Society has deployed emergency response teams and advertised bank accounts for donations. The International Organization for Migration said it had sent an assessment team to Aceh.
Seaside resident Fitri Abidin in Pidie Jaya said she fled with her husband and wailing children to a nearby hill after the quake jolted the family awake early in the morning. They stayed there for several hours until authorities reassured them there was no tsunami risk.
“It terrified me. I was having difficulty breathing or walking,” Abidin said.
She said her husband grabbed hold of her and carried her out of the house.
The family’s house didn’t collapse but the homes of some neighbors did and Abidin is afraid three friends were buried in building collapses.
The world’s largest archi- pelago, Indonesia is prone to earthquakes due to its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin. The 2004 quake and tsunami killed a total of 230,000 people in a dozen countries.
Rescue workers and police remove a victim from a collapsed building following an earthquake in Aceh, Indonesia, on Wednesday.