Humanitarian organizations descended on Indonesia’s Aceh province Thursday as the local disaster agency called for urgent food supplies and officials raced to assess the full extent of damage from an earthquake that killed more than 100 people.
Volunteers and nearly 1,500 rescue personnel concentrated their search on the hard-hit town of Meureudu in Pidie Jaya district near the epicenter of the magnitude 6.5 quake that hit before dawn Wednesday. But the small number of heavy excavators on the scene meant progress was slow. Humanitarian assessment teams fanned out to other areas of the district.
National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the death toll had risen to 102 and warned it could increase. Search teams were using devices that detect mobile phone signals within a 100-meter radius to help guide their efforts as they scoured the rubble. The disaster agency said more than 750 people were injured.
“We have to move faster to search and rescue possible survivors,” said Iskander Ali, a Pidie Jaya official.
Those killed included very young children and the elderly. Mohammad Jafar, 60, said his daughter, granddaughter and grandson died in the quake but he was resigned to it as “God’s will.”
He was getting ready for morning prayers when the earthquake hit. He said he and his wife managed to push their way out through the debris. Another man said he found his nine-year-old daughter alive beneath a broken wall at his neighbor’s house.
Thousands of people are homeless or afraid to return to their houses. Nugroho said more than 11,000 people have been displaced and are staying at shelters and mosques or with relatives. About 10,500 homes were damaged and dozens of mosques and shop houses collapsed.
Killer quakes occur regularly in the region, where many live with the terrifying memory of a giant Dec. 26, 2004, earthquake that struck off Sumatra. The magnitude-9.1 quake triggered a devastating tsunami that killed more than 100,000 Acehnese.
Sulaiman, a Disaster Mitigation Agency official in Aceh, said staple foods for women and babies are most urgently needed. He said medicines are sufficient because assistance is coming from the army, police, state-run companies and local governments.
“What’s badly needed now are staple foods such as rice, cooking oil, salted fish and other foods,” said Sulaiman. He said people had complained about a lack of clean water, but the problem has been tackled and electricity supply is returning to normal in many areas.
Nugroho, at a news conference in Jakarta, listed as urgent food and clothing, specialist doctors for victims suffering fractures, medical equipment, temporary shelters and heavy excavation equipment.
The Indonesian government sent 50 tons of urgent aid to Aceh, including 10 generators, tents, folding beds, baby supplies and body bags.
“Every aid and civil society organization is piling into the area with as many boxes of rice, instant noodles, blankets and other aid as they can shift,” said Paul Dillon, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, which has an assessment team in northern Aceh.
It will take at least two more days before there’s a fuller picture of how many people are displaced, he said.
The military is setting up an emergency field hospital and sending two dozen doctors, and the Health Ministry is sending a medical team and medicines. The Red Cross sent aid such as water trucks on Wednesday and humanitarian group CARE is leading an assessment team of four international aid groups to avoid duplication of efforts. Aid groups and others are also appealing for donations.
Pope Francis, who was speaking at St. Peter’s Square for a Catholic holiday, said he wanted people to know he was praying for the victims of the earthquake, their loved ones and those left homeless.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake was centered about 19 kilometers (12 miles) southeast of Sigli, a town near the northern tip of Sumatra, at a depth of 17 kilometers. It did not generate a tsunami. Aftershocks have rattled the area.
The world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia is prone to earthquakes due to its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin. The 2004 quake and tsunami killed a total of 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Aceh.