Rescuers have stepped up efforts to locate people buried under the rubble more than three days after an earthquake struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, as medical workers battled exhaustion and the risk of COVID- 19 to treat the wounded.
At least 81 people have been confirmed dead and more than 250 seriously injured in the 6.2 magnitude quake, disaster mitigation spokesperson Raditya Jati said in a statement on Monday.
Significant damage was also caused to homes, a shopping center, a hospital and several hotels, with more than 19,000 people homeless following the earthquake that struck while many were still sleeping early Friday morning.
In the seaside town of Mamuju, buildings have been reduced to a tangled mass of twisted metal and concrete.
Masked doctors treated patients with broken limbs and other injuries at a makeshift medical center outside the city’s only hospital to survive the earthquake relatively intact.
“The patients keep coming,” Nurwardi, head of operations at West Sulawesi General Hospital in Mamuju, told AFP news agency.
“It’s the only hospital in town. Many need surgery, but we have limited resources and drugs.
The hospital was scrambling to open more rooms for surgery and erect additional tents outside to treat the injured, said Nurwardi, who like many Indonesians has a name.
But fears that another earthquake could bring down the building added to the challenges.
“A lot of patients don’t want to be treated inside the hospital because they are worried about another earthquake,” Nurwardi said.
“Well, it’s not just them, the doctors are… scared of being inside the building too.
It is still unclear how many people – dead or alive – could still be under the piles of debris.
Chain of disasters
Most of the 81 dead were found in Mamuju, but some bodies were also found south of the city of 110,000 people in West Sulawesi province.
At least 18 people had been pulled from the living rubble, including a pair of younger sisters, according to official data.
Police began using sniffer dogs to help search a badly damaged hospital as body bags were full of recovered corpses.
“There are probably still people trapped under the rubble,” search and rescue agency spokesman Yusuf Latif said on Monday.
Meanwhile, people left homeless by the earthquake have taken refuge in dozens of makeshift shelters – much little more than tarp-covered tents.
They said they were running out of food, blankets and other aid as emergency supplies moved to the hard-hit area.
Many survivors were unable to return to their destroyed homes or were too scared to return, fearing a tsunami caused by aftershocks, common after severe earthquakes.
Fearing a coronavirus outbreak in overcrowded camps, authorities were trying to separate high and low risk groups and performing rapid antigen testing.
Indonesia, a Southeast Asian archipelago of nearly 270 million people, was hit by a series of disasters last week, including a plane crash, landslides, floods and a pair of volcanic eruptions.
President Joko Widodo was scheduled to visit South Kalimantan province on the island of Borneo on Monday to see flood damage after at least 15 people died after weeks of torrential rains.
The country experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tectonic plates collide.