42 Reported Dead in Aceh as Rescue Crews Search Earthquake Wreckage
[Updated at 7:16 p.m. on Wednesday, June 3, 2013]
The death toll in Indonesia’s Aceh province climbed to 42 on Wednesday after yesterday’s 6.2-magnitude earthquake triggered landslides and collapsed homes in this disaster-prone region, a local hospital head said.
Rescue crews rushed on Wednesday to pull victims from landslides in Bener Mariah district where at least 14 died and hundreds were injured in Tuesday’s quake. Local hospitals were flooded with 43 patients on Wednesday, while an additional 61 sought treatment at community health centers, Rusli M. Saleh, deputy regent of Bener Meriah regent, said.
“Officials along with local people and volunteers keep searching for victims in the ruins and landslides,” Rusli said.
Province-wide, the death toll from the earthquake reached 42 by Wednesday night, Syahrul, head of Zainoel Abidin Hospital in Banda Aceh, said.
Some 300 people camped out overnight in open spaces, such as football fields, as the area was hit by strong aftershocks, Fauzi, an official from the local disaster agency, told AFP.
He said many were in desperate need of food.
“There were strong aftershocks last night and people didn’t want to go back home, so they stayed in the open overnight, but we don’t have enough tents,” said the official. “We have a power outage now and communications are unreliable.”
In nearby Central Aceh, some 17 people were reported dead, including at least six children killed when a mosque collapsed during a Koran reading session, district disaster agency head Subhan Sahara said.
Rescuers dug all night with an excavator through the rubble of the mosque looking for more children believed to be trapped but no more bodies had as yet been found, an AFP reporter at the scene said.
Most houses in the village had collapsed and residents were digging through the remains of the buildings with their bare hands to search for their belongings, the reporter said.
Bodies of the dead were laid out and covered in blankets at a makeshift emergency health post in the village.
“This is the biggest earthquake we’ve ever had here,” Subhan told AFP. “People are still frightened, especially after the aftershocks last night. Nobody dared to stay at home. Everyone slept on the roads or in car parks.
“The earthquake triggered many landslides. People could not get out of the area because of fallen trees and mounds of earth blocking roads.”
The death toll is expected to rise as rescue crews continue to comb the region for missing people, Subhan said. More than 1,600 homes were reportedly flattened in the quake.
The main hospital in the district was overwhelmed and tents had been set up outside to treat the flood of patients, he said, adding that food and water were in short supply.
Military, police and local government officials were trying to head to affected areas by ground and in aircraft but some roads were blocked by landslips, the national disaster agency said.
The agency dispatched a helicopter from neighboring Riau province to assist in rescue efforts, while an air force plane was also deployed to assess the damage.
The earthquake knocked out power and cell phone service in much of the two disaster zones leaving residents, many with missing relatives, unable to reach loved ones.
“My cell phone battery is almost out,” said Bakhtiar Gayo, of Takengon, Aceh Tengah district. “We can’t charge our cell phone.”
Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah visited the affected areas with Aceh Police chief Insp. Gen. Herman Effendi and several other officials. The governor helped coordinate disaster relief and met with the earthquake’s victims.
The Aceh Disaster Mitigation Office (BPBA) sent two trucks of instant noodles, bottled water and rice to the region, handing out the supplies at various aid points scattered throughout the districts.
“This is only temporary aid,” said Miftah, a logistics officers with the BPBA. “If there is more accurate data on the aid needed, we will deliver it again.”
The 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck 35 kilometers southwest of Redolong, Bener Meriah, on Tuesday. The quake occurred at a shallow depth of 10 kilometers, shaking homes as far away as Malaysia.People ran outside in the provincial capital Banda Aceh as the quake — some 320 kilometers away — shook houses, and in Medan city to the south of the province.
Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra, is regularly hit by quakes. The huge quake-triggered tsunami of 2004 not only killed tens of thousands in the province, but also many in countries around the Indian Ocean.
In April last year an 8.6-magnitude quake struck 431 kilometres off Banda Aceh, prompting an Indian Ocean-wide tsunami alert.
Five people died and seven were injured in Aceh in the quake and following aftershocks.
In September 2009 a major earthquake near Padang city on Sumatra killed more than 1,000 people.
Indonesia sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where tectonic plates collide, causing frequent seismic and volcanic activity.