Survivors of an earthquake in Indonesia that killed at least 271 people, many of them children, turned for food and water on Wednesday as heavy rain and aftershocks thwarted rescue efforts among the ruins of destroyed villages.
Calls for help came after authorities warned debris from a landslide caused by a massive earthquake near the West Java town of Chanjur must be removed as rain forecasts threaten a second catastrophe in the coming weeks.
Two days after the earthquake destroyed their homes, residents were still trying to get back priceless items, including family photos, religious books and marriage certificates.
“While some shipments have arrived, they are not enough. We have rice, instant noodles, mineral water, but this is not enough,” Mustafa, a 23-year-old resident of the village of Gasol, told AFP.
Mustafa had just excavated the ruins of an elderly neighbor’s house at her request, emerging from behind a ruined façade with a pile of clothes before returning to collect rice, a gas stove, jerry cans and pans.
In the village of Talaga, some residents hang signs on the windows of damaged houses and on the facades of tents with the inscription “We need help!”
On the streets, at least three people held cardboard boxes, asking for donations. The evacuees huddled under flimsy tents, unable to move inside because of the rain in case the buildings collapsed from the aftershock.
A shallow 3.9-magnitude quake caused evacuees to flee in panic on Wednesday, according to an AFP correspondent. As of Wednesday evening, the authorities recorded 171 aftershocks.
The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said on Wednesday that more than 61,000 people were displaced by the quake, about 2,000 were injured and 40 were missing.
About a third of the dead found are believed to be children, BNPB head Suharyanto, who, like many Indonesians, goes by the same name, told a press conference, without giving an exact figure.
The government sent tents and other supplies to Chianjur for the displaced, officials said, with the military dispatching 12,000 on Wednesday.
Torrential rains hampered these efforts in about a dozen villages, where more than 22,000 houses were destroyed.
“Refugees… must be guaranteed their basic necessities of life – water, food, this is non-negotiable,” Suharyanto said.
– Hamlet buried –
The two villages remain isolated, Henri Alfiandi, head of Indonesia’s search and rescue agency Basarnas, said in a video posted on social media.
He said he had received reports that villagers were trapped without food or water, and some were forced to sleep next to the corpses.
“People there can’t even ask for help,” he said, adding that three helicopters were sent to drop the aid.
Another village in Kugenang district most affected by the quake was buried under a landslide, Mukhammed Vachudin, a spokesman for the Chianjur disaster management agency, told AFP.
Rescuers believed that several bodies were buried in Kampung Pos, but they were unable to reach them.
Indonesia is vulnerable to landslides and flash floods during the rainy season, which has already started and peaks in December in West Java.
The country’s meteorological agency has warned that Chanjur is prone to another disaster.
“We need to be vigilant for a potential second disaster such as a landslide,” Dwikorita Karnavati, head of the meteorology, climatology and geophysics agency, told a press conference on Tuesday.
Karnavati said the rivers could be blocked by landslides or rubble, which could lead to flash floods in Chianjur.
“We urgently need to remove materials and rubble that are blocking river flows in the upper hills,” she said.
– “Thank God!” –
On Tuesday, residents of Chianjur began to mourn their loved ones, burying them in accordance with their Islamic faith after authorities released them from morgues.
Some searched the wreckage for items. One couple had a glimmer of hope.
Mimin, 52, and her husband, Rosid, 67, roamed their ruined home in search of just one item, a precious two-gram gold ring.
They pulled clothes out of the concrete, patting and shaking them until a shiny piece of jewelry popped out representing their savings.
“Thank God! I found the ring!” Mimin shouted.
Indonesia often experiences seismic and volcanic activity due to its position in the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where tectonic plates collide.
Monday’s tremor was the deadliest in the archipelago country since the 2018 earthquake and resulting tsunami that killed more than 4,000 people. island of Sulawesi.