Rain, shocks slow Indonesia quake rescuers

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Driving rain and the danger of landslides have disrupted the work of Indonesian rescue workers searching for survivors of an earthquake that killed 271 people, with an official warning that time is running out for anyone caught in the trap in the rubble.

Monday’s magnitude 5.6 earthquake caused extensive damage in the town of Cianjur, in the mountains about 75 kilometers south of the capital, Jakarta. Forty people are still missing.

Recovery efforts from a rainy Wednesday focused on Cugenang, one of the worst-hit districts, where at least one village was reportedly buried by a landslide.

Helicopters were to drop food and water in two villages inaccessible by road, said Henri Alfiandi, head of the search and rescue agency.

He said the chances of survival for anyone trapped in the rubble three days after the quake were increasingly slim, but the risk of aftershocks triggering more landslides on sodden slopes had set his teams back. .

“Because the earthquake was quite strong and it was raining, we were worried that there would be landslides. But we have continued the evacuation process now,” Henri told Reuters.

Ai Nurjanah, 48, said she was trapped under fallen concrete for about 15 minutes after the quake, while shielding her four-year-old daughter beneath her. They were taking a nap when the earthquake hit.

“I keep screaming for help until I run out of voice. My daughter was crying, ‘Mummy, it’s dark, I can’t breathe,'” she told Reuters while awaiting treatment for her injuries in hospital.

Authorities were scrambling to bring in more heavy machinery to clear the landslides. About 6,000 rescuers were dispatched, the disaster mitigation agency said.

Officials said there had been more than 170 aftershocks, including a magnitude 3.9 on Wednesday afternoon.

As the search continued, rescuers pulled a five-year-old boy from the rubble, who had survived because he was protected by a mattress.

In video released by a local fire department, Azka, who had been trapped for two days, appeared conscious and calm as he was pulled to safety.

“(Azka) is fine now, not injured. The doctor said he was only weak because he was hungry,” his parent Salman Alfarisi, 22, said while holding Azka’s hand in a makeshift tent in the hospital parking lot, adding that his mother had died.

“He wants to go home now. He asked for his mother while he was sleeping.”

Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said there was an urgent need for additional help for patients in quake-damaged hospitals.

Indonesia is one of the most earthquake-prone nations in the world, regularly recording strong earthquakes off the coast where fault lines pass.

But Monday’s quake was so deadly because it struck a densely populated area at a depth of just 10km.

Poor building standards have led to many deaths, officials said.

President Joko Widodo called for earthquake-resistant housing to be included in reconstruction efforts when he visited the disaster area on Tuesday.

Reuters with AP

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