On Nov. 21, a powerful earthquake rocked Indonesia’s West Java province, killing more than 200 people, mainly children, and triggering a massive rescue response.
The earthquake ruptured infrastructure and the death toll is expected to rise well beyond what has been reported.
Major Damage in Cianjur
The 5.6-magnitude earthquake struck the island of Java in earthquake-prone Indonesia, causing major damage to the town of Cianjur, located 75 kilometers (45 miles) southeast of Jakarta, the country’s capital. The town has a population of 175,000 people, and is located in a mountainous region of the island.
Despite the quake’s lower magnitude, compared to other earlier quakes, it still caused massive damage due to it hitting the flat and low lands.
As of Nov. 22, the death toll was reported to be around 268 people, with more than a thousand others injured, according to disaster agency official. Around 58,000 have lost their homes, and around 22,000 homes were destroyed by the quake.
You are now signed up for our newsletter
Check your email to complete sign up
Tragically, many of the victims of the quake were children, who were at school when the ground shook and the buildings tumbled, according to Henri Alfiandi, head of the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas).
On Nov. 22 officials also reported that 151 people were still missing, as rescuers raced to dig through the devastation.
“Everything collapsed beneath me and I was crushed beneath this child,” resident Cucu, 48, told Reuters as she cried worrying about the disappearance of one of her children.
“Two of my kids survived, I dug them up… Two others I brought here, and one is still missing,” she said.
“At least six of my relatives are still unaccounted for, three adults and three children,” said Zainuddin, who lived in Cugenang — an area swept away by a landslide caused by the quake.
Local news coverage showed footage of people digging through the dirt with nothing but their hands and other tools.
Reuters also reported that survivors flooded a parking lot at a Cianjur hospital, some being treated in tents and others being treated on the pavement.
- Powerful Earthquake Shakes Mexico on Fateful Anniversary, 2 Confirmed Dead
- 6.8 Magnitude Earthquake Strikes China’s Sichuan Province, Killing Over 60 People
- Magnitude 7.0 Earthquake Strikes Philippines, Five Dead and 130 Injured
- Over 1,000 People Dead After Earthquake Strikes Afghanistan
In response to the quake, President Joko Widodo came to Cianjur on Nov. 22 to bolster rescue operations.
“My instruction is to prioritize evacuating victims that are still trapped under rubble,” he said.
Dedi Prasetyo, police spokesman, told the Antara news agency that hundreds of police officers were deployed to assist in the rescue in Cianjur.
“Today’s main task order for personnel is to focus on evacuating victims,” Prasetyo said.
Unfortunately, landslides and rugged terrain made rescue efforts more difficult, Alfiandi said.
“The challenge is the affected area is spread out… On top of that the roads in these villages are damaged,” he told reporters.
Electricity shortages in certain areas also hampered rescue efforts, along with several aftershocks. Officials also warned that more landslides could happen in the following weeks.
“It’s the rainy season in West Java, the peak is in December,” Dwikorita Karnawati, head of the weather and geophysics agency, told reporters. “So we must anticipate any disaster that might follow, such as landslides.”
Save the Children Indonesia said it was sending a team to Cianjur to provide aid to the children and adults hit by the quake, al-Jazeera reported.
Within the Ring of Fire
Cianjur was the closest town to the epicenter of the quake, joining the myriad of quakes and other natural disasters within the volatile area. Indonesia stands on the “Ring of Fire,” a seismic zone where plates on the earth’s crust clash, resulting in volcanic eruptions and quakes.
The most infamous disasters to occur in Indonesia’s history would be the Krakatoa eruption in 1883, and the 2004 quake and tsunami that swept through the coasts of Indonesia and other countries.
At the time of the current Indonesian quake, another was reported near the Solomon Islands, rocking buildings and cutting off the power in the capital of Honiara. The prime minister’s office warned people to evacuate to higher ground as a tsunami alert was raised.