Death toll from Sulawesi earthquake rises as officials struggle to find survivors

At least 56 people have died after a powerful 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck Indonesia’s West Sulawesi province on Friday, the disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) said on Sunday.

Over 820 people were injured, 15,000 displaced. Many sought refuge in the mountains, while others went to cramped evacuation centres.

Indonesia’s meteorological, climatology and geophysical agency (BMKG) chief Dwikorita Karnawati has warned of a tsunami if another quake hits the region.

Rescuers have spent days hauling bodies from beneath crumpled buildings in Mamuju, a city of 110,000 people in West Sulawesi province, where a hospital was flattened and a shopping mall lay in ruins.

Others were killed south of the city.

Aerial images from the devastated seaside city showed buildings reduced to a tangled mass of twisted metal and chunks of concrete, including the regional governor’s office.

It was unclear how many more bodies could be under the debris, or if there was anyone still trapped but alive more than two days after the disaster.

Authorities have not given a figure for how many survivors have been rescued.

The thousands who were left homeless were running low on food, blankets and other aid, as emergency supplies were rushed to the hard-hit region.

Worried about an outbreak of Covid-19 in the crowded camps, authorities said they are trying to separate high- and lower-risk groups.

The quake’s epicentre was 36km south of Mamuju and it had a relatively shallow depth of 18km.

Indonesia has seen back to back disasters lately. The Sriwijaya Air crash last week killing 62 people, floods and landslides in neighbouring Kalimantan, Indonesia’s section of Borneo island and West Java. On Saturday, Mount Semeru at the eastern end of Java island erupted, shooting down lava, ash and debris some 4.5km into the sky.

Indonesia sits on a disaster-prone archipelago of nearly 270 million, experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tectonic plates collide.

In 2018, a 7.5-magnitude quake and a subsequent tsunami in Palu on Sulawesi left more than 4,300 people dead or missing.

And on Dec 26, 2004, a 9.1-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra and triggered a tsunami that killed 220,000 throughout the region, including around 170,000 in Indonesia.