By Kanupriya Kapoor
PEMENANG, Indonesia - Rescue workers found scenes of destruction across the north of Indonesia’s resort island of Lombok on Monday after a magnitude 6.9 earthquake killed at least 91 people and prompted an exodus of tourists rattled by the second powerful quake in a week.
The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said it expected the death toll to rise once the rubble of more than 13,000 flattened and damaged houses is cleared away, but a lack of heavy equipment meant this would take time.
Power and communications were cut in some areas of Lombok, with landslides and a collapsed bridge hampering access to the north. The Indonesian military said it was sending in a ship with medical aid, supplies and logistical support.
The Indonesian Red Cross said in a Tweet that it helped a woman give birth after the quake at a health post. One of the names she gave the baby boy was ‘Gempa’, which means earthquake.
Lombok was hit a week earlier, on July 29, by a 6.4 magnitude quake that killed 17 people and briefly stranded several hundred trekkers on the slopes of a volcano.
The Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics (BMKG) said that more than 120 aftershocks were recorded after Sunday evening’s quake, whose magnitude the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) revised down to 6.9 from an original 7.0. At that magnitude it released more than five times the energy of the quake a week earlier, the USGS website showed.
There were no foreigners among the dead and the number of injured stood at 209, BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a news conference.
The tremor was so powerful it was felt on the neighboring island of Bali where, according to BNPB, two people died. The first quake was also felt on Bali.
Indonesia sits on the geologically active Pacific Ring of Fire and is regularly hit by earthquakes. In 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.
Residents of a northern village called Mentigi were forced to flee to nearby hills when the quake struck and flattened their houses. Blue tarpaulins dotted the hillside on Monday as people prepared to spend the nights outdoors because of aftershocks or because their houses were destroyed.
“We are getting some aid from volunteers but we don’t have proper tents yet,” said a 50-year-old villager sheltering with his wife and children, who gave his name only as Marhun.
“We understand there are other areas that are worse hit but I hope they can get the aid here soon.”
Ambulances, their sirens blaring, raced along the coast from north Lombok, but BNPB spokesman Nugroho said emergency units in hospitals across the island were overflowing and some patients were being treated in parking lots.
“THIS IS IT FOR ME INDONESIA”
Sengiggi, a seaside tourist strip on Lombok, wore an abandoned look. Amid collapsed houses, some hotels appeared to have closed, restaurants were empty and beaches deserted.
Long lines formed at the airport of Lombok’s main town, Mataram, as foreign visitors cut their holidays short. At least two airlines said they were adding extra flights to help tourists leave.
“I was at the rooftop of my hotel and the building started swaying very hard ... I could not stand up,” said Gino Poggiali, a 43-year-old Frenchman, who was with his wife and two children at the airport.
His wife Maude, 44, said the family was on Bali for the first quake and Lombok for the second.
“This is it for me in Indonesia. Next time we will stay in France, or somewhere close,” she said.
Dutch tourist Marc Ganbuwalba injured his knee as a stampede of diners rushed from a restaurant after the quake.
“We are cutting short our holiday because I can’t walk and we’re just not in the mood anymore, more in the mood to see our loved ones,” said the 26-year-old, sitting on a trolley at the airport with his leg bandaged.
“We are just thankful to God and also to the hotel staff who really helped us. Some of them said their own houses had been destroyed but they were still helping us.”
Officials said hundreds of tourists had been evacuated from the three Gili islands off the northwest coast of Lombok, and boats were being scrambled to collect several hundred more who feared a tsunami would hit the islands.
Michelle Thompson, an American who was holidaying on one of the Gilis with her husband, described a violent “scramble” to get on boats leaving for the main island.
“People were just throwing their suitcases on board and I had to struggle to get my husband on because he was bleeding,” said Thompson, whose husband was treated for cuts on his head and legs when they arrived back on Lombok.