JAKARTA: Quake-stricken residents of Lombok island in central Indonesia are reeling from two powerful earthquakes that struck the island in just a week, as a search-and-rescue operation was under way to look for more casualties trapped under the debris of collapsed buildings.
National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the death toll from the magnitude-7 earthquake that struck the island on Sunday evening has risen from 91 to 98, including two deaths in Bali and 236 injured.
“A backhoe has been deployed to search for victims trapped under the rubble of a mosque in Lading-Lading village as they were praying when the quake struck,” Nugroho said.
Nugroho said all the dead are Indonesians and there were no foreigners among the victims.
North Lombok district, the area closest to the epicenter, is the hardest-hit area and the number of deaths is expected to increase as a rescue operation is under way with thousands of buildings damaged in most parts of the island.
“Rescuers are still unable to reach all areas affected but they continue to scour those areas to evacuate victims. We continue to compile the data,” he said.
There have been 176 aftershocks recorded so far, but with decreasing intensity.
Nugroho added that all 2,700 foreign and domestic tourists have been evacuated from Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air, the three tourist islets off the northwestern coast of Lombok after nine boats were deployed to transport them to the mainland.
Taufan Rahmadi, founder of a local volunteer group, Friends of Tourists, said he and his group of volunteers have been assisting the tourists in their transfer from the islands to the airport in Mataram.
“I am in now in Bangsal port in North Lombok where tourists from the three Gilis are arriving. The transfers have been going smoothly so far,” Rahmadi told Arab News.
Desi Fitriana, who was attending a conference in the island’s main city of Mataram, said she had to evacuate the hotel where she had stayed since Friday and spent last night sleeping on the floors of Lombok airport.
“We weren’t allowed to go back to our hotel until this afternoon. We were finally able to freshen up at a hotel near the airport,” she told Arab News.
The military was deploying a floating military hospital, KRI Dr. Soeharso, from the naval base in Surabaya, East Java and will dock in the waters off Lombok.
The geophysics agency had issued a tsunami warning after the quake struck at 7.46 p.m. local time but it was lifted almost two hours later after the agency detected low rising tides.
Head of the geophysics agency Dwikorita Karnawati said in a televised press conference that despite the low rising tides, the agency still had to issue the warning and officials had to warn people to stay away from the coastal areas because the impact of the waves would depend on the coastal areas’ topography.
Television footage showed people were fleeing from buildings and crowding the streets as they tried to reach higher ground. The tremor was felt in the eastern part of East Java province and in the neighboring island of Bali, where some buildings, including the international airport Ngurah Rai, have been damaged.
Karnawati said the epicenter was on the northern slope of Mount Rinjani on the eastern part of the island and not far from the epicenter of last week’s 6.4 magnitude quake that left 19 dead and more than 1,000 domestic and foreign hikers trapped on the mountain because the quake triggered a landslide that blocked the hiking routes.
A regional ministerial-level conference on counterterrorism that was set to be held in Mataram on Monday had been canceled following the earthquake. Chief security minister Wiranto, who was hosting the event, was already on the island on Sunday.
He was hosting a welcoming dinner for his regional counterparts and their delegations from Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Myanmar when the quake struck.
The foreign ministry said a two-day regional conference on people smuggling with Indonesian and Australian foreign ministers in attendance was still being held on Monday and Tuesday as scheduled.