At least 15 dead as Indonesia quake topples homes, buildings

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MAMUJU, INDONESIA: A strong, shallow earthquake shook Indonesia’s Sulawesi island just after midnight Friday, toppling homes and buildings, triggering landslides and killing at least 15 people.

More than 600 people were injured during the magnitude 6.2 quake, which sent people fleeing their homes in the darkness. Authorities were still collecting information about the full scale of casualties and damage in the affected areas.

There were reports of many people trapped in the rubble of collapsed homes and buildings.

Residents inspect earthquake-damaged houses in Mamuju, West Sulawesi, Indonesia, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. Photo: AP

In a video released by the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, a girl stuck in the wreckage of a house cried out for help and said she heard the sound of other family members also trapped. “Please help me, it hurts,” the girl told rescuers, who replied that they desperately wanted to help her.

The rescuers said an excavator was needed to save the girl and others trapped in collapsed buildings. Other images showed a severed bridge and damaged and flattened houses. TV stations reported the earthquake damaged part of a hospital and patients were moved to an emergency tent outside.

Another video showed a father crying, asking for help to save his children buried under their toppled house. “They are trapped inside, please help,” he cried.

Thousands of displaced people were evacuated to temporary shelters.

The quake was centered 36 kilometers (22 miles) south of West Sulawesi province’s Mamuju district, at a depth of 18 kilometers (11 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The Indonesian disaster agency said in a statement that eight people were killed by collapsing houses and buildings, and more than 600 people were injured in the neighboring district of Majene alone.

It said at least 300 houses and a health clinic were damaged and about 15,000 people were being housed in temporary shelters in the district. Power and phones were down in many areas.

West Sulawesi Administration Secretary Muhammad Idris told TVOne that the governor’s office building was among those that collapsed in Mamuju, the provincial capital, and many people there remain trapped, including two security guards.

Idris said seven people were confirmed dead so far in Mamuju.

Rescuer Saidar Rahmanjaya said a lack of heavy equipment was hampering the operation to clear the rubble from collapsed houses and buildings. He said his team was working to save 20 people trapped in eight buildings, including in the governor’s office, a hospital and hotels.

“We are racing against time to rescue them,” Rahmanjaya said.

Among dead in Majene were three people killed when their homes were flattened by the quake while they were sleeping, said Sirajuddin, the district’s disaster agency chief.

Sirajuddin, who goes by one name, said although the inland earthquake did not have the potential to cause a tsunami, people along coastal areas ran to higher ground in fear one might occur.

Landslides were set off in three locations and blocked a main road connecting Mamuju to the Majene district, said Raditya Jati, the disaster agency’s spokesperson.

On Thursday, a magnitude 5.9 undersea quake hit the same region, damaging several homes but causing no apparent casualties.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago of 260 million people, is frequently struck by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis because of its location on the “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.

In 2018, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in Palu on Sulawesi island set off a tsunami and caused soil to collapse in a phenomenon called liquefaction. More than 4,000 people died, many of the victims buried when whole neighborhoods were swallowed in the falling ground.

A powerful Indian Ocean quake and tsunami in 2004 killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Indonesia.

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