Cianjur, Indonesia – Survivors of an Indonesian earthquake that killed at least 271 people, many of them children, appealed for food and water on Wednesday as heavy rain and aftershocks hampered rescue efforts among the rubble of devastated villages.
The calls for help came as authorities warned that debris from landslides caused by the strong quake near the town of Cianjur in West Java needed to be cleared as rains forecast for the coming weeks threatened a second disaster.
Two days after the quake flattened their homes, residents were still trying to retrieve priceless belongings including family photos, religious books and marriage certificates.
“Although some supplies have arrived, it is not enough. We got rice, instant noodles, mineral water but it’s not enough,” Mustafa, a 23-year-old resident of Gasol village, told AFP.
Mustafa had just dug through the rubble of an elderly neighbour’s house at her request, appearing from the destroyed facade carrying a pile of clothes before returning to collect rice, a gas stove, canisters and frying pans.
In Talaga village, some residents put signs on the windows of damaged houses and the front of tents that read ‘We need help!’
In the streets, at least three people held up cardboard boxes, asking for donations. Evacuees crammed under flimsy tents, unable to move inside from the rain in case buildings collapse from an aftershock.
A shallow 3.9-magnitude aftershock sent panicked evacuees running from shelters on Wednesday, according to an AFP reporter at the scene. Authorities had recorded 171 aftershocks as of Wednesday evening.
More than 61,000 people have been displaced by the quake, around 2,000 are injured and 40 missing, the national disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) said on Wednesday.
Around a third of those found dead so far are believed to be children, BNPB chief Suharyanto, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told a press conference, without providing an exact figure.
The government has dispatched tents and other supplies to Cianjur for the displaced, and the military deployed 12,000 personnel on Wednesday, officials said.
Heavy rain was hampering those efforts in about a dozen villages where more than 22,000 houses had been destroyed.
“For the refugees… their basic life necessities must be guaranteed – water, food, that’s non-negotiable,” Suharyanto said.
Two villages remain isolated, said Henri Alfiandi, head of Indonesia’s search and rescue authority Basarnas, in a video posted to social media.
He said he had received reports of villagers trapped without food and water, and some forced to sleep alongside dead bodies.
“The people there can’t even ask for help,” he said, adding that three helicopters were being sent to drop aid.
Another hamlet in Cugenang district, the worst-hit by the quake, was buried by a landslide, Muhammad Wachyudin, an official from the Cianjur disaster mitigation agency, told AFP.
Rescuers believed some bodies were buried in Kampung Pos but they have not been able to reach them.
Indonesia is vulnerable to landslides and flash floods in the rainy season, which has already begun and peaks in December in West Java.
The country’s meteorology agency warned that Cianjur is prone to another catastrophe.
“We have to be vigilant over a potential second disaster, such as a landslide,” Dwikorita Karnawati, head of the meteorology, climatology and geophysics agency told a press conference on Tuesday.
Karnawati said rivers could be blocked by landslides or rubble and spark a flash flood in Cianjur.
“We urgently need to clear materials and rubble that block river flows in the upper hills,” she said.
On Tuesday, Cianjur’s residents began mourning loved ones, laying them to rest in accordance with their Islamic faith after authorities released them from morgues.
Some searched the wreckage for belongings. For one couple, there was a glimmer of hope.
Mimin, 52, and her husband Rosyid, 67, scrabbled through their destroyed home looking for one item only – a treasured two-gram gold ring.
They pulled clothes from the concrete, patting and shaking them, until the gleaming piece of jewellery that represented their savings popped out.
“Praise God! I found the ring!” Mimin yelled.
Indonesia experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’, where tectonic plates collide. Monday’s tremor was the deadliest in the archipelago nation since a 2018 quake and resulting tsunami killed more than 4,000 people on the island of Sulawesi.