‘It felt like the end of the world’: Indonesia quake survivors recount harrowing experience

Mr Jajang Nurdin managed to save his wife, who was pinned under the rubble, with the help of neighbours. ST PHOTO: ARLINA ARSHAD
Patients receiving treatment at a makeshift tent at the carpark of Dr Hafiz Hospital in Cianjur, Indonesia, on Nov 22, 2022. ST PHOTO: ARLINA ARSHAD

CUGENANG, Indonesia – Indonesian rescuers recovered more bodies on Tuesday, bringing the death toll from Monday’s 5.6-magnitude quake in Cianjur regency, in West Java, to 268 and those injured to 1,083.

Lieutenant-General Suharyanto, head of Indonesia’s Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), said 58,362 people have been displaced and 151 were still missing as at 5pm on Tuesday (6pm, Singapore time).

“We will try our best to find all the victims,” ​​he said.

“Those who were displaced have received better facilities, large tents have been set up. Public kitchens have been operating. If there are still things that are lacking and have not been served, we will gradually fix them.”

The impact of the temblor, which the authorities say recurs about every 20 years, also damaged 22,198 houses across 12 districts in Cianjur, including one of the worst-hit areas of Cugenang.

Cugenang resident Jajang Nurdin, 45, was about to tuck into his lunch of rice and salted fish when he felt the ground suddenly “shake vigorously like waves”.

Then, the walls of the rice farmer’s house started crumbling.

His head bleeding as bricks fell on him, he grabbed his toddler and ran out of his home in Sukamanah village.

Then he heard someone crying behind him and turned to see his wife pinned under the rubble.

“Only her head was visible. I was so shocked, I felt like fainting. It really felt like it was the end of the world,” Mr Jajang told The Straits Times from his home, now reduced to a pile of debris.

Jumping through a window, he managed to extricate his wife, alive, with the help of neighbours.

“I lost my house, but God is kind, my family and I survived,” he added. “A house can be rebuilt, money can be earned again, but you cannot bring back your dead loved ones.”

Some 145 aftershocks of lower intensity kept Mr Jajang and his neighbours from sleeping at night. Many of the villagers camped outside their houses or huddled together in makeshift shelters.

Mr Agus Juanda, 34, an odd-job labourer, was among about 100 people who chose to stay in a makeshift shelter.

He said he was still traumatised after almost losing his four-year-old son when a neighbour’s house collapsed on Monday.

“My son was playing with two other boys. One boy managed to escape, while I managed to get another out of the house. I heard whimpers, which sounded like my son’s voice, but couldn’t locate him,” he said.

“I began digging through the debris with my bare hands. My hand touched his body and I pulled him out. The fear of losing him was unimaginable,” he added.

Immediately after the quake, thick grey dust covered the roads and got into people’s nostrils and eyes, blinding them momentarily, residents said.

Mr Ade Sutansyah, 56, one of the village heads, recalled a sound like thunder that lasted several seconds when the temblor began. He threw aside the pile of wood that he had just chopped and shouted for everyone to leave their homes.

“The quake made a loud whirring sound. That, and noises of people panicking and screaming, houses toppling, made everything very chaotic,” he said. “A resident died. She was at home praying.”

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The quake also triggered a landslide at a hillside in Cugenang. Locals said there were dozens of houses there that were swept away.

Dozens of rescue workers and at least half a dozen cranes were seen digging through the earth to make blocked roads accessible again. Rescue efforts were complicated by electricity outages in some areas.

One woman was seen weeping near the site, the fate of her father unknown.

“He was only delivering rice to a food stall here. It was supposed to be a five-minute job at most. I think he might be buried under the earth. I called him many times, but his phone was dead,” she said, wiping her tears with a headscarf.

Located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a highly seismically active zone where different plates on the earth’s crust meet, Indonesia has a history of devastating earthquakes.

In 2004, a 9.1-magnitude quake off Sumatra island in northern Indonesia triggered a tsunami that struck 14 countries, killing 226,000 people.

While Monday’s quake could be considered low in magnitude, it was shallow at 10km and hence more damaging than deeper quakes. It also struck a populated area, resulting in high casualties.

Mr Agus Juanda (right) with his wife Lisda (left) and son. He had to save his four-year-old son from a collapsed neighbour’s house. ST PHOTO: ARLINA ARSHAD

President Joko Widodo visited the landslide area, among other places, on Tuesday, and offered condolences to the quake victims.

He also pledged government assistance, from rescuing and evacuating victims buried in landslides to providing funds of between 10 million and 50 million rupiah (S$880 and S$4,400), depending on the severity of the damage, to rebuild their houses.

“But most importantly, the construction of houses affected by this earthquake must adhere to earthquake-resistant building standards,” said the President.

Mr Widodo also ordered officials to open access to isolated areas, repair damaged infrastructure and public facilities, and also residents’ homes. More tents should be added at the hospitals for emergencies, he instructed.

Meanwhile, West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil said many patients were worried about being treated in a hospital after the quake for fear of more aftershocks.

Footage and reports on Monday showed quake survivors being treated at the tents, but by Tuesday many of them had left, hospital workers said.

A check by ST at two hospitals – Dr Hafiz Hospital and Sayang Cianjur Hospital – in Cianjur found several tents were erected at the carparks to accommodate patients, including some hooked up to intravenous drips.

One of them was housewife Julianti, 57, who had been warded at Dr Hafiz Hospital for a lung issue.

When the quake struck, the building shook and the hospital windows started to crack, she recalled. “I thought I wouldn’t make it out alive, as I was still hooked up to an oxygen tank.

“But somehow, in my panic, my ailments vanished and I managed to muster all my strength to stand up and walk. I didn’t have a choice. If I didn’t get out, I would die,” she said, her voice trembling.

The quake also triggered landslides, including at a hillside in Cugenang district. ST PHOTO: ARLINA ARSHAD

Madam Julianti said she was lucky that she had her visiting son for company, but was worried about her husband warded in the next building.

“My son was clutching on to me, and telling me to just worry about myself. Some patients were bedridden and could not get out without help, but the doctors and nurses really went out of their way to make sure that everyone was safe,” she added.

Ms Syifa Fauziah, 19, who is on a month-long nursing internship at the Sayang hospital, said she was still trying to get over the shock.

“Earthquakes are something I see only on TV. I never thought it would happen to me.”

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