Worried Indonesians await news of earthquake-affected loved ones

CIANJUR, Indonesia, Nov 23 (Reuters) – Helicopters will drop relief supplies to Indonesian villagers stranded on Wednesday after an earthquake destroyed homes in West Java, while others awaited with trepidation the fate of their missing relatives.

The death toll from Monday’s magnitude 5.6 earthquake in the city of Cianjur has risen as the scale of the disaster unfolds, with 268 officially confirmed dead, up from around 160 the day before, and more than 150 missing.

Wednesday’s recovery efforts will focus on Cugenang, one of the worst affected districts, where at least one village is believed to have been buried by a landslide, while helicopters will drop emergency supplies on two others cut off by roads blocked.

As authorities prepared to bring in more heavy machinery to clean up the landslides, video footage showed people digging up dirt with their bare hands and with tools such as hoes, sticks and crowbars.

“If it was just an earthquake, only the houses would collapse, but it’s worse because of the landslide,” said Zainuddin, who was looking for six missing relatives.

“In this residential area there were eight houses, all of which were buried and swept away.”

More than 1,000 police officers were mobilized to help the rescue teams.

Rescuers are desperate to reach those trapped as soon as possible, said Henri Alfiandi, the head of the search and rescue agency, who warned that the chances of survival are starting to fade three days after a earthquake.

Helicopters will drop food and water in two villages inaccessible by road, he said.

The mountainous terrain makes it difficult to deliver aid, forcing authorities to plod to affected villages, West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil said.

Indonesia is one of the most earthquake-prone nations in the world, regularly recording stronger offshore earthquakes.

But Monday’s quake, followed by more than 160 aftershocks, was made deadlier as it struck a densely populated area at a shallow depth of just 10 km (6 miles).

Poor building standards have led to many deaths, officials added.

President Joko Widodo called for earthquake-resistant housing to be included in reconstruction efforts, during a Tuesday visit to the city, about 75 km (45 miles) south of Jakarta, the capital.

There was an urgent need for immediate surgery as quake-damaged hospitals had limited capacity, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said.

“My priority is that there are no more deaths, he said. “The first priority is to ensure that seriously injured patients are taken care of, so that they can survive.”

Written by Kate Lamb; Editing by Ed Davies and Clarence Fernandez

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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