Indonesia earthquake: at least 46 dead, hundreds injured

A powerful earthquake struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi just after midnight Friday, damaging homes and buildings, triggering landslides and killing at least 34 people.

By Vatican News staff writer

Thousands of frightened residents fled their homes for higher ground in the darkness when a magnitude 6.2-quake struck Indonesia’s West Sulawesi province shortly before 1.30 a.m, 15 January. The U.S. Geological Survey located the epicentre some 36 kilometres (22 miles) south of Mamuju district, at a depth of 18 kilometres (11 miles).  

The quake and aftershocks injured hundreds and trapped many under the rubble, with authorities warning of more quakes that could trigger a tsunami. More than 300 homes and two hotels were damaged and a hospital was flattened, the office of a regional governor said. The tremors set off three landslides, disrupted electricity supplies and communication links, and damaged bridges linking to regional hubs, such as the city of Makassar.

The Indonesian disaster agency said the death toll could climb as rescuers retrieve bodies trapped under collapsed homes and buildings in Majene and in the adjoining Mamuju district. The agency said about 15,000 people were being housed in temporary shelters.

Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) told reporters that there had been at least 26 aftershocks, with Friday’s quake preceded by a quake of 5.9 magnitude tremor on Thursday. 

President Joko Widodo offered condolences to the victims in a video statement, urging people to stay calm and calling on authorities to step up search efforts.

Key tasks for officials are restoring telecommunications and bridge links, and ensuring delivery of tents, food and medical supplies, said West Sulawesi provincial government spokesman Safaruddin.

Aid distribution amid the coronavirus pandemic is likely to be a daunting task said Jan Gelfand, head of the International Federation of Red Cross in the country.  Indonesia recorded its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases on Friday with 12,818 new infections, taking the total to 882,418 cases. New deaths number 238, taking the total to 25,484. Indonesia has the most coronavirus infections and fatalities in southeast Asia.

Straddling the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, the Indonesia archipelago is regularly hit by earthquakes and volcano eruptions. In 2018, a devastating 7.4-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami struck the city of Palu, in Sulawesi, killing more than 4,000 people. Earlier, on 26 December 2004, a 9.1-magnitude quake off the north of Sumatra island triggered a devastating tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Indonesia.