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Indonesia quake: At least 73 dead, desperate hunt on for survivors

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It is still unclear how many more bodies could be under debris

JAKARTA: At least 73 people have been killed after an earthquake struck Indonesia's West Sulawesi province on Friday, the national disaster management agency (BNPB) said yesterday.

More than 820 people were injured and over 27,800 left their homes after the 6.2-magnitude quake, BNPB spokesman Raditya Jati said.

Some sought refuge in the mountains, while others went to cramped evacuation centres, witnesses said.

The police and the military have been deployed to crack down on looting in several parts of the region, the spokesman said.

Rescuers have spent days hauling corpses 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.

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

A pair of young sisters plucked from under concrete and other debris were treated in hospital.

Meanwhile, corpses were recovered from under a collapsed hospital, while five members of a family of eight were found dead in the crumpled remains of their home.

The thousands left homeless by the quake took to makeshift shelters - many little more than tarpaulin-covered tents filled with families - that were lashed by heavy downpours.

They said they were running low on food, blankets and other aid, as emergency supplies were rushed to the hard-hit region.

Many survivors are unable to return to their destroyed homes, or were too scared to go back fearing a tsunami sparked by aftershocks, which are common following strong earthquakes.

"It is better to take shelter before something worse happens," said Mamuju resident Abdul Wahab from a makeshift tent with his wife and four kids, including a baby. "We hope the government can deliver aid such as food, medicine and milk for the children soon," he added.

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

"The situation in Indonesia is urgent," said non-governmental organisation Project Hope. "(But) Covid-19 further complicates emergency response."

Just two weeks into the new year, the world's fourth-most populous country is battling several disasters.

Floods in North Sulawesi and South Kalimantan province each have killed at least five this month, while landslides in West Java province have killed at least 29. On Jan 9, a Sriwijaya Air jet crashed into the Java Sea with 62 on board.

And East Java's Semeru mountain erupted late on Saturday, but there have been no reports of casualties.

Also, Indonesia on Saturday reported a record 14,224 increase in Covid-19 cases bringing the total to 896,642. - REUTERS, AFP