CIANJUR – On the fourth day of an increasingly urgent search, Indonesian rescuers narrowed their focus Thursday to a landslide where dozens of people were believed trapped after an earthquake killed at least 272, more than a third of them children.
Many of the more than 1,000 rescuers were using backhoes, sniffer dogs and life detectors — as well as their bare hands — to search the worst-hit area of Cijendil village in mountainous Cianjur district where a landslide set off by Monday's quake left tons of mud, rocks and broken trees.
Suharyanto, chief of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, said the rescuers are planning to use more heavy equipment to search the landslide after using maximum human power.
“Hopefully in the next two days, after the weather is good, we can use heavy equipment and more victims will be found,” Suharyanto said.
Rescue efforts were temporarily suspended Wednesday as heavy monsoon rains fell.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited Cianjur on Thursday and said rescuers will focus on one location where 39 people are missing.
“The search process will be our priority for now,” Widodo said. “The soil is unstable, so you need to be careful," he warned.
He said distribution of relief supplies has been difficult because the injured and displaced are spread out and hard to reach.
“We hope all victims can be found soon,” said Henri Alfiandi, chief of the National Search and Rescue Agency.
On Wednesday, searchers rescued a 6-year-old boy who was trapped for two days under the rubble of his collapsed house.
Data from National Disaster Mitigation Agency showed that 100 of the 272 confirmed deaths were children.
Monday's magnitude 5.6 quake injured more than 2,000 people, damaged at least 56,000 houses and displaced at least 62,000 people to evacuation centers and other shelters. The agency said 171 public facilities were destroyed, including 31 schools.
Suharyanto, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, said the authorities will verify damage to houses to allow rebuilding to start soon and evacuees to return home.
An earthquake of that strength would not typically be expected to cause serious damage. But Monday's quake was shallow and shook a densely populated area that lacks earthquake-resistant infrastructure. Weak aftershocks were continuing Thursday morning.
More than 2.5 million people live in Cianjur district, including about 175,000 in its main town, which has the same name.
President Widodo has pledged to rebuild infrastructure and provide assistance of up to 50 million rupiah ($3,180) to each resident whose house was damaged.
Indonesia is frequently struck by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis because of its location on the arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin known as the “Ring of Fire.”
Associated Press writer Edna Tarigan in Jakarta contributed to this report.