Rescuers yesterday battled through landslides and blocked roads to reach survivors from an earthquake in Indonesia’s Aceh Province that killed at least 24 people, including several children who died when a mosque collapsed.
Almost 250 people were also injured in Aceh’s remote, mountainous interior when the strong magnitude 6.1 quake struck the north of Sumatra island on Tuesday, flattening buildings and triggering landslides.
The quake, which struck at a shallow depth of just 10km, has sparked panic in the natural disaster-prone region where more than 170,000 people were killed by the quake-triggered tsunami of 2004.
In Blang Mancung village, Central Aceh district, there was widespread devastation with many homes reduced to rubble and at least six children killed when a mosque collapsed during a Koran reading session.
Rescuers dug all night with an excavator through the rubble of the mosque looking for more children, but a local disaster agency official said late yesterday he did not believe that anyone else was buried.
As 16 aftershocks rocked Aceh late on Tuesday, about 700 people from the village and its surrounding areas took refuge in makeshift shelters, the national disaster agency said. Those who remained dug through the rubble of their collapsed houses with bare hands to search for their belongings, a reporter at the scene 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,” said Subhan Sahara, head of the district’s disaster agency.
“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,” he said.
“The earthquake triggered many landslides. People could not get out of the area because of fallen trees and mounds of earth blocking roads,” he said.
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.
“Bad phone communications, damage to several roads, and landslides are making rescue efforts difficult,” agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho 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.
“We have recorded 24 people dead and 249 people injured,” Nugroho said, adding that 375 buildings had been destroyed or damaged.
The casualties were spread over the two worst-hit districts of Central Aceh and Bener Meriah, he said. Scores of people were being treated at hospitals in the region.
In Bener Meriah, about 300 people camped out overnight in open spaces, such as football fields, as the area was hit by strong aftershocks, said Fauzi, an official from the local disaster agency.
“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,” Fauzi said.