Aceh quake: Thousands in desperate search for survivors

Rescuers looking for survivors in Pidie Jaya, Aceh province, yesterday. Many are still trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings. Hundreds of residents and volunteers have joined rescue efforts.
Rescuers looking for survivors in Pidie Jaya, Aceh province, yesterday. Many are still trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings. Hundreds of residents and volunteers have joined rescue efforts.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Many still trapped under rubble of collapsed buildings; food, medical supplies being sent

More than 1,500 soldiers, policemen and rescue workers have been mobilised for rescue operations in Aceh to look for survivors after a 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck the province early Wednesday morning.

Hundreds of residents and volunteers from non-governmental organisations have also been helping rescuers, who have doubled in numbers since the day of the quake.

The death toll climbed to 102 yesterday and more than 750 people are injured, with many still trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings.

Aceh lies in an area prone to seismic activity, and has been hit by several quakes in recent years.

The provincial government declared a 14-day state of emergency on the day of the quake, for relief efforts to take place.

  • President Tan and PM Lee offer condolences

  • President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong have sent their condolences on the Aceh quake to Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

    The 6.5-magnitude quake that hit Pidie Jaya in Aceh on Wednesday morning killed dozens of people - with the death toll expected to rise - and left hundreds of buildings flattened or seriously damaged.

    "Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Indonesia during this difficult period," Dr Tan said in his letter.

    Mr Lee, who said he was saddened by the tragic loss of life and widespread damage, offered help.

    "Singapore stands ready to assist Indonesia in whatever way we can," he wrote.

    The Singapore Civil Defence Force said on Wednesday that two officers would be deployed to Indonesia as part of a five-man Asean Emergency Response and Assessment Team, under the auspices of the Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management.

But Dr Sutopo Nugroho from the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) knows his rescuers have a much smaller window to locate survivors.

"We will conduct search and rescue operations for the first seven days... after which the chances of survival are extremely slim," he told reporters at the BNPB headquarters in Jakarta yesterday.

He added that rescuers have also started using infrared sensors to detect the body temperature of trapped victims to locate them.

The powerful quake and more than 300 aftershocks destroyed at least 10,534 homes, shophouses, schools and mosques.

As a result, a total of 11,142 people have been displaced by the quake, with thousands now staying in 28 tents set up by the BNPB as temporary shelter, while more food, water and medical supplies are being sent to Aceh.

The quake severely damaged the hospital in Pidie Jaya, adding to the woes of local medical staff who have been struggling with an overflow of patients since Wednesday.

Dr Sutopo said the Indonesian military will be setting up a temporary hospital in Pidie Jaya, while the navy is sending four vessels to provide humanitarian aid.

More supplies and shelters will be needed as thousands have abandoned their homes over fears that their houses may collapse because of more aftershocks.

"Some 3,276 had left their homes because they are traumatised and opted to live in tents, even though their homes were not badly damaged," said Dr Sutopo.

Hundreds of survivors on the coast have also moved inland to a shelter set up at the Masjid Al Munawarah, a mosque in Bie village near Pidie Jaya, reported Kompas news.

The shelter's coordinator, Mr Ramli M. Nafi, said the victims chose to take refuge there over fears of a repeat of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which killed more than 230,000.

Pidie Jaya regency was the worst hit in Wednesday's quake, with more than 2,100 residents now living in tents set up in safe zones. About a thousand from Bireuen, another regency located along the north-east coastline of Aceh that was hit by the 2004 tsunami, have also moved into temporary shelters.

 
 

Some shops in Meureudu, a town in Pidie Jaya which was the focus of rescue efforts on Wednesday, reopened for business yesterday.

"But there are still victims buried under the ruins, so the evacuation process will continue," said Mr Al-Husain, spokesman for the search and rescue agency Basarnas.

President Joko Widodo, who arrived in the capital of Banda Aceh yesterday evening after speaking at a forum in Bali, will visit Pidie Jaya and other affected areas today to inspect the damage caused by the quake.

Pidie Jaya regency was the worst hit in Wednesday's quake, with more than 2,100 residents now living in tents set up in safe zones. About a thousand from Bireuen, another regency located along the north-east coastline of Aceh that was hit by the 2004 tsunami, have also moved into temporary shelters.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2016, with the headline 'Thousands in desperate hunt for quake survivors'. Print Edition | Subscribe