Rescue workers have stepped up efforts to find people buried beneath the rubble more than three days after an earthquake hit the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, as medical workers battled exhaustion and the risk of COVID-19 to treat the injured.
At least 81 people have been confirmed dead and more than 250 seriously injured in the 6.2 magnitude quake, disaster mitigation spokesman Raditya Jati said in a statement on Monday.
There was also significant damage to homes, a shopping mall, a hospital and several hotels, with more than 19,000 people left homeless by the quake that struck while many were still asleep early on Friday morning.
In the seaside city of Mamuju, buildings were reduced to a tangled mass of twisted metal and concrete.
Masked doctors treated patients with broken limbs and other injuries at a makeshift medical centre set up outside the only one of the city’s hospitals that survived the quake relatively intact.
“The patients keep coming,” Nurwardi, manager of operations at Mamuju’s West Sulawesi General Hospital, told AFP news agency.
“This is the only hospital operating in the city. Many need surgery but we have limited resources and medicine.”
The hospital was scrambling to open up more rooms for surgery and erect additional tents outside to treat the injured, said Nurwardi who, like many Indonesians, goes by one name.
But fears that another quake could bring down the building were adding to the challenges.
“Many patients do not want to be treated inside the hospital because they’re worried about another quake,” Nurwardi said.
“Well, it’s not only them, the medics are… scared of being inside the building too.”
It was still unclear how many people – dead or alive – could still be under the piles of debris.
String of disasters
Most of the 81 dead were found in Mamuju, but some bodies were also recovered south of the city of 110,000 people in West Sulawesi province.
At least 18 people had been pulled out of the rubble alive, including a pair of young sisters, according to official data.
Police began using sniffer dogs to help in the search at a badly damaged hospital, as body bags were filled with recovered corpses.
“There are probably some people still trapped under the rubble,” search and rescue agency spokesman Yusuf Latif said on Monday.
Meanwhile, people left homeless by the quake took refuge at dozens of makeshift shelters – many little more than tarpaulin-covered tents.
They said they were running low on food, blankets and other aid, as emergency supplies were rushed to the hard-hit region.
Many survivors were unable to return to their destroyed homes, or were too scared to go back, fearing a tsunami sparked by aftershocks, common after strong earthquakes.
Fearing an outbreak of coronavirus in the crowded camps, authorities were trying to separate high- and low-risk groups and carrying out rapid antigen tests.
Indonesia, a Southeast Asian archipelago of nearly 270 million, has been hit by a series of disasters in the past week, including a plane crash, landslides, flooding and a pair of volcanic eruptions.
President Joko Widodo was due to fly to the province of South Kalimantan on Borneo island on Monday to view flood damage after at least 15 people had died following 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.