14 mosques among 245 buildings destroyed in Indonesian quake

Indonesian rescue workers carry a survivor from a fallen building after an earthquake in Ulee Glee, Pidie Jaya, in the northern province of Aceh, Indonesia on Wednesday. (Antara Foto/Ampelsa/via REUTERS)
Updated 07 December 2016

14 mosques among 245 buildings destroyed in Indonesian quake

MEUREUDU, Indonesia: Some 245 buildings, including 14 mosques, were seriously damaged or destroyed by the strong earthquake that rocked Indonesia’s Aceh province early Wednesday, the province’s disaster mitigation agency said.
Most of the buildings were in Pidie Jaya, near the epicenter of the earthquake that has killed at least 97 people and injured more than 600 others.
Many dwellings and shop houses were also destroyed and roads also cracked and power poles toppled over.
A frantic rescue effort was going on in the rubble of collapsed and damaged buildings.
Maj. Gen. Tatang Sulaiman, chief of the army in Aceh province, said four people were pulled from the rubble alive. Another four or five are known to be buried, but he didn’t say if they were dead or alive.
The rescue effort involving thousands of search officials, villagers, soldiers and police is concentrated on Meureudu, a severely affected town in Pidie Jaya district near the epicenter. Excavators were trying to remove debris from shop houses and other buildings where people were believed buried. TV footage showed rescuers in orange uniforms shining flashlights into the interiors of broken buildings as they searched for signs of life.
The US Geological Survey said the 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck at 5:03 a.m. and was centered about 19 kilometers (12 miles) southeast of Sigli, a town near the northern tip of Aceh, at a depth of 17 kilometers (11 miles). The agency had initially placed the epicenter undersea. It did not generate a tsunami.
For Acehnese, the quake was a terrifying reminder of their region’s vulnerability to natural disasters. More than 100,000 died in Aceh after a Dec. 26, 2004, earthquake triggered a devastating tsunami.
“It was very bad, the tremors felt even stronger than the 2004 earthquake,” said Musman Aziz, a Meureudu resident. “I was so scared the tsunami was coming.”
Aiyub Abbas, the chief of Pidie Jaya district, said there was urgent need for emergency supplies and excavation equipment to move heavy debris. Footage showed rescue personnel taking bodies in black bags away from the rubble.
Muhammad Reza Faisal, director of the general hospital in Pidie Jaya, said the facility was overwhelmed with the numbers of injured and many people were being treated in tents pitched on its grounds. He said five of the quake victims died at the hospital.
In the capital, Jakarta, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said he had ordered all government agencies to take part in the rescue efforts for Aceh, a conservative province that has considerable autonomy from the central government under a peace deal with separatists.
The Red Cross Indonesia deployed emergency response teams and advertised bank accounts for donations. The International Organization for Migration said it sent an assessment team to Aceh.
Seaside resident Fitri Abidin in Pidie Jaya said she fled with her husband and wailing children to a nearby hill after the quake jolted the family awake. They stayed there for several hours until authorities reassured them there was no tsunami risk.
“It terrified me. I was having difficulty breathing or walking,” Abidin said.
She said her husband grabbed hold of her and carried her out of the house.
The family’s house didn’t collapse but the homes of some neighbors did and Abidin is afraid three friends were buried in the rubble.
In Pidie Jaya’s neighboring district of Bireuen, a teacher at an Islamic school died after being hit by falling debris, said health worker Achmad Taufiq.
The world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia is prone to earthquakes due to its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin. The 2004 quake and tsunami killed a total of 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Aceh. 

 

 


South Korean ‘cult’ blamed for spike in coronavirus cases

Updated 29 February 2020

South Korean ‘cult’ blamed for spike in coronavirus cases

  • Critics say the group’s secretive nature and the manner in which it worships could have lead to the fast spread of the virus
  • Most of the confirmed cases are in the city of Daegu, about 300 km southeast of Seoul, where large services for Shincheonji members were held on Feb. 16

SEOUL: With the number of coronavirus cases skyrocketing in South Korea in the past week, a local fringe Christian sect has been blamed for the growing outbreak.
As of Wednesday, a total of 1,261 people had tested positive with 12 deaths reported. Just a week ago, the number of infected persons stood at 50. However, South Korea has seen by far the highest number of the Covid-19 cases outside China.
Health authorities believe the Shincheonji Church of Jesus is at the heart of the alarming spread of the pandemic, as more than half of the confirmed cases have been found to be linked to the religious sect, which is widely regarded as a cult.
“The mass infections came after Shincheonji followers took part in the Feb. 16 service and had frequent contacts around that time,” Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korean Center for Disease Control (KCDC), told reporters on Wednesday.
Most of the confirmed cases are in the city of Daegu, about 300 km southeast of Seoul, where large services for Shincheonji members were held on Feb. 16. Thousands of worshippers are believed to have attended, authorities said.
The other cluster of infections is a hospital in Cheongdo, a neighboring county of Daegu. Shincheonji members are also known to have visited the hospital, according to the KCDC officials.
Officially called the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, the group was founded in 1984 and claims to have around 240,000 followers worldwide.
Shincheonji followers are taught to believe that Lee Man-hee, the founder of the organization, is the second coming or the returned Christ. The church claims the Bible is written in metaphors which only its founder can correctly interpret.
Critics say the group’s secretive nature and the manner in which it worships could have lead to the fast spread of the virus.
“They hold services sitting packed together on the floor and kneel very close to one another,” Shin Hyun-uk, director of the Guri Cult Counseling Center, said.
Shin was a member of the cult for 20 years until 2006 and has been leading a campaign to extract members from the church ever since he realized that “the group was not a normal religion.”
Shin said the Shincheonji churchgoers shout out “amen” at the top of their lungs “after every sentence the pastor utters.”
“While holding services, worshippers send respiratory droplets flying everywhere, causing the virus to be transmitted easily,” he said.
Most members of the church hide their membership, which means the virus goes undetected, Sin warned.
“Few families of the Shincheonji members know their sons, daughters, wives, husbands and parents were taken in the cult religion. I guess only 20 to 30 percent of the family members of the Shincheonji worshippers would recognize it,” he said. “That’s the key reason health officials have difficulty in tracking and curbing the virus being transmitted from worshippers to others.”
A 61-year-old female member of the sect tested positive for the virus last week, but initially refused to be transferred to a hospital so as not to reveal the fact that she had attended Shincheonji gatherings.
A Daegu health official responsible for quarantine also revealed he is a Shincheonji member after being tested positive.
Critics say uncovering the identities of Shincheonji members will be difficult since the group conceals the names of politicians, public officials and other celebrities.
Amid growing public anger at the sect, the group said at the weekend that it will fully cooperate with government investigations.
On Tuesday, officials broke into the group’s headquarters in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province, to discover a full list of members for quarantine measures.
The government said it has secured a list of 212,000 Shincheonji worshippers and will begin conducting coronavirus tests on those who have respiratory symptoms.
Over 800,000 people have signed an online petition since Saturday after it was filed on the website of the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae.
Authorities are looking into how the disease was first transmitted to the group. More than 9,000 Shincheonji worshippers have been put under quarantine.
The Seoul government has been scrambling to contain growing expressions of public anger.
As of Wednesday morning, over 400,000 South Koreans had signed an online petition calling for President Moon Jae-in to be impeached.
Petitioners say Moon failed to halt entry to visitors from all parts of China, only prohibiting the entry of foreigners from China’s Hubei province, where Wuhan, the center of the outbreak, is located.
Meanwhile, the US Forces Korea (USFK) reported on Tuesday that it had detected the first infection in one of its troops. The 23-year-old soldier is stationed at Camp Carroll, near Daegu, but has been quarantined at his home off base, according to the command. The development came a day after a widow of a retired US soldier living in Daegu contracted the virus.
“KCDC and USFK health professionals are actively conducting contact tracing to determine whether any others may have been exposed,” the USFK said in a news release Feb. 25.
“USFK is implementing all appropriate control measures to help control the spread of Covid-19 and remains at risk level ‘high’ for USFK peninsula-wide as a prudent measure to protect the force,” it said.
More countries, including Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Singapore, have started to impose bans on South Korean travelers because of the virus outbreak.