Indonesia earthquake: Heavy rain hampers search for survivors

SULAWESI (BBC): Indonesian officials say heavy rain is hampering the search for survivors following a powerful earthquake on Sulawesi island on Friday.

The death toll has now risen to 73, including five members of one family.Thousands of people left homeless are living in makeshift shelters, and there are fears of a Covid outbreak there. In recent days Indonesia has endured deadly landslides, the loss of a Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737 with 62 people on board, and a volcanic eruption. Indonesia sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where tectonic plates collide, and the country has a history of devastating earthquakes and tsunamis. More than 2,000 people were killed in a quake in Sulawesi in 2018.

In 2004, a tsunami triggered by an earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra killed 226,000 people across the Indian Ocean, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

The epicentre of Friday’s 6.2-magnitude tremor was six kilometres (3.7 miles) north-east of Majene city at a depth of 10km. Excavators, cranes and other heavy-lifting equipment have been deployed in the area, but their work on Sunday was being undermined by monsoon rains.

“The rain poses risks because damaged buildings could collapse if it gets too heavy… and aftershocks could move them too,” rescuer Octavianto was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

Excavating debris too fast could crush and kill any buried survivors, he added. Shortly after the earthquake, the five-storey Mitra Manakarra Hospital in the seaside town of Mamuju partially collapsed, killing eight people.

Video footage shared on social media showed collapsed houses and a girl pinned under rubble calling for help. The authorities fear the death toll will increase further as rescue efforts continue. Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Friday offered condolences to the victims’ families and friends, and urged people to stay calm.