Rain hampers rescue efforts


Safer outside: People injured in the earthquake resting at a makeshift ward outside a hospital due to aftershock concerns in Mamuju. — AFP

TORRENTIAL monsoon rains hampered the hunt for anyone still buried alive under buildings flattened by a powerful earthquake on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island, after the huge tremor killed at least 81 and left thousands homeless.

Excavators and cranes were deployed across the devastated seaside city of Mamuju, where buildings were reduced to a tangled mass of twisted metal and chunks of concrete, including a hospital and the regional governor’s office.

It was unclear how many people – dead or alive – could still be under the debris in the aftermath of Friday’s 6.2-magnitude quake.

“The rain poses risks because damaged buildings could collapse if it gets too heavy... and aftershocks could move them too, ” said rescuer Octavianto.

Excavating debris too fast with heavy equipment could crush and kill any buried survivors, he added.

“All the victims we’ve found so far were dead, ” said Octavianto, 37, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

“It is most likely any more victims are already dead if 24 hours has passed, ” he added.

Scores of rescuers combed through the destruction, filling body bags with corpses, while police on Sunday deployed a K-9 unit of sniffer dogs to help in the search at a badly damaged hospital.

“We also use our own sense of smell to find possible victims, ” said rescuer Kustang Firman at the hospital scene.

“If there’s a strong scent (of decay), we’ll focus on that spot.”

Most victims were found in Mamuju, but some were also recovered south of the city of 110,000 people in West Sulawesi province.

Friday’s tremor triggered panic among residents of the island, which was hit by a 2018 quake-tsunami disaster that killed thousands.

“We heard a roaring sound and the house started shaking, ” said survivor Jumardi, 50, from a shelter where he and six family members took refuge.

“All I had in my mind was that I would die... Everyone was panicking.” — AFP

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