Children at school among 268 dead in Indonesia quake

AFP

An earthquake that struck Indonesia's West Java killed at least 268 people, many of them children, with 151 still missing, disaster relief officials said on Tuesday.

Hundreds of people were injured in the Monday quake and officials warned the death toll was likely to rise.

The shallow 5.6-magnitude quake struck in mountains in Indonesia's most populous province of West Java, causing significant damage to the town of Cianjur and burying at least one village under a landslide.

Landslides and rough terrain were hampering rescue efforts, said Henri Alfiandi, head of National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas).

"The challenge is the affected area is spread out... On top of that, the roads in these villages are damaged," Alfiandi told a news conference, adding that more than 13,000 people had been evacuated.

"Most of the casualties are children, because at 1:00 pm they were still at school," he said, referring to the time the quake hit.

Many of the fatalities resulted from people trapped under collapsed buildings, officials said.

President Joko Widodo flew in to Cianjur on Tuesday to encourage rescuers.

"My instruction is to prioritise evacuating victims that are still trapped under rubble," said the president, who is known as Jokowi.

He offered his condolences to the victims and pledged emergency government support. Reconstruction should include earthquake-prone housing to protect against future disasters, he said.

'SWEPT AWAY'

Disaster officials said they would focus their efforts on one of the worst hit areas of Cugenang, an area that was struck by a landslide triggered by the quake.

Television news channels showed footage of people digging brown earth by hand using hoes, sticks, crowbars and other tools.

"At least six of my relatives are still unaccounted for, three adults and three children," said Zainuddin, a resident of Cugenang, told Reuters.

"If it was just an earthquake, only the houses would collapse, but this is worse because of the landslide. In this residential area there were eight houses, all of the which were buried and swept away."

National police chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo said more than 1,000 police had been deployed to assist in the recovery.

Rescue efforts were complicated by electricity outages in some areas and 145 aftershocks, with officials warning more landslides could follow in coming weeks.

"It's the rainy season in West Java, the peak is in December," Dwikorita Karnawati, head of the weather and geophysics agency, told reporters. "So we must anticipate any disaster that might follow, such as landslides."

Straddling the so-called Ring of Fire, a highly seismically active zone where different plates on the earth's crust meet, Indonesia has a history of devastating earthquakes.

In 2004, a 9.1 magnitude quake off Sumatra island in northern Indonesia triggered a tsunami that struck 14 countries, killing 226,000 people.

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