Java Quake Toll Rises to 57 as Dozens Trapped

LEGIAN ~ A powerful earthquake measuring 7 on the Richter scale killed at least 57 people, authorities said on Thursday, and flattened thousands of houses, leaving dozens of people trapped beneath the rubble.

The temblor struck at 3pm on Wednesday and sent thousands of panicked office workers in the capital Jakarta scurrying out of their high-rise buildings.

Rescue workers searched by hand on Thursday for dozens of people believed to be trapped by the earthquake as police and soldiers were called in to help.

“There are 57 people dead (across Java) and about 42 are still buried in Cianjur. Their chances of surviving are slim,” disaster management agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono said.

“So far we are digging them out manually with hoes, but we hope to bring in the heavy machinery soon,” he said.

In the village of Cikangkareng, the earthquake caused landslides that stripped hillsides bare and buried homes.

Police and rescue workers could be seen scrambling over banks of earth to carry body bags away from the rubble.

“The village is in a valley and the landslide buried a dozen houses about 20 metres under. You can’t see the roofs at all; everything is completely buried. The chance of anyone surviving is very, very small,” Kardono said.

“The road to the village is cut off; only motorcycles can get through.”

Officials said the worst damage from the earthquake was in the districts of Cianjur, Garut and Tasikmalaya in West Java province.

Mariani, a hospital staff member in Tasikmalaya, said they had treated 43 people.

“Two of them, a 43-year-old woman and a seven-year-old boy, died from serious head injuries after they were crushed under a collapsed wall. Their bodies were all covered with blood,” she said.

“The hospital floors shook so hard yesterday and patients and staff were shouting ‘Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!’ (God is Great) as we rushed to get all the bedridden patients out of the building.”

“About 18,000 houses and buildings have been damaged,” disaster agency official Maman Susanto said.

The quake was also felt in other Indonesian islands, including Bali and Sumatra.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said his country had offered assistance to neighbouring Indonesia to deal with the aftermath of the earthquake.

“At this stage, I am not aware of any requests for assistance from the Indonesian authorities,” Rudd told public broadcaster ABC Radio.

“Of course, we stand ready to provide that assistance.”

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