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Indonesia grapples with earthquake, flooding, landslides and fallout from Sriwijaya Air crash

As Indonesia continues to count the number of dead from last week’s earthquake on Sulawesi island, search and rescue teams are being stretched to breaking point, as they grapple with a series of disasters unfolding across the country.

Flooding in South Kalimantan has killed more than a dozen people and displaced tens of thousands. Rescue workers are still looking for several missing and feared buried under the mud 10 days after landslides tore through a village in West Java. And divers continue to search for victims and crucial data in the wreckage of Sriwijaya Air flight 182, which crashed in the Java Sea on January 9, with 62 people on board.

Meanwhile, two volcanoes on the most populous island, Java, are spewing ash into the air, with hundreds of people evacuated from the slopes of Mount Merapi in recent weeks.

The string of grim events comes just a few weeks into 2021 and at a time when Indonesia is reporting record daily increases of Covid-19 cases while it embarks on a mass vaccination program.

Earthquake death toll climbs

On Sunday, the death toll from a 6.2-magnitude earthquake on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island rose to 84, as rescue workers continued the search for survivors trapped in rubble while aftershocks rattled the island.

Seventy-three people died in Friday’s quake in the city of Mamuju, to the north of the epicenter, while another 11 were killed in Majene, a city about 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Mamuju. Thousands of residents fled their homes to seek safety, but many are still trapped under collapsed buildings, according to local search and rescue teams.

At least 253 people were seriously hurt and another 679 suffered minor injuries, said Raditya Jati, from Indonesia’s National Board for Disaster Management. The quake also triggered a power outage and caused three landslides along the main road connecting Majene and Mamuju.

The quake has created an additional headache for a nation already battling a serious coronavirus outbreak. Indonesia has reported at least 907,929 Covid-19 cases and nearly 26,000 related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The head of Indonesia’s disaster management agency, Doni Monardo, said Sunday that rapid antigen test kits were being provided to evacuation centers to check and trace for potential Covid-19 transmission among the 19,435 people displaced by the earthquake.

“Later there will be an antigen swab process, to ensure that refugees are not exposed to Covid-19,” Doni said. He added that displacement centers have been asked to separate vulnerable groups from young people to prevent the virus spreading.

Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysical Agency cautioned that aftershocks could still occur and urged those living in hilly areas to be aware of landslides. People living near the coast were also warned to stay away from the beach in case of tsunamis.

Meanwhile, rescue teams were continuing to free people trapped under collapsed buildings in multiple locations across Mamuju — including two hotels and a hospital. “People are reporting that their family members are trapped under collapsed houses and asking for our help,” Ariyanto Ardi, section head of the local disaster management department, told CNN on Saturday.

“We still have no details how many people are buried under those flattened buildings,” he added.

Straddling the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” Indonesia — a nation of high tectonic activity — is regularly hit by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In 2018, a 6.2-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami struck the city of Palu, in Sulawesi, killing thousands of people.

Mount Merapi, Indonesia’s most active volcano, began erupting again on January 4. Since then, 500 people living on or close to its fertile slopes have been evacuated, according to the local Disaster Management of Magelang District.

On Monday, Merapi continued to spew lava as hot clouds and ash rose 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) into the air, according to the Indonesian Center for Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation. The agency said six lava flows could be seen, descending 600 meters down its southwestern slope.

Also on Java Island, Indonesia’s highest volcano Mount Semeru began spewing lava, ash and smoke on Saturday.

Flooding and landslides

Floods brought on by heavy rain in South Kalimantan province on the island of Borneo this week have killed at least 15 people and displaced more than 100,000.

Waters as high as 1.5 meters (5 feet) inundated more than 20,000 homes across 10 districts in the province, according to Raditya from the disaster management agency.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited the flood-hit areas on Monday as rescue teams distributed aid including food, tarpaulins and blankets, to those in need.

Separately, at least six people were killed in flooding and landslides in Manado City, in North Sulawesi on Saturday.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency warned that more rain could follow, saying the region was in the middle of the rainy season, which will last until February.

Meanwhile, rescue workers continue to search through mud and debris for victims 10 days after a landslide, brought on by heavy rains and unstable soil conditions, tore through Cihanjuang village in West Java province. On Monday, four bodies were pulled from the mud, raising the death toll to 33. Rescue workers are searching for four people still missing, according to the West Java Search and Rescue Agency.

Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,000 islands, often suffers floods and landslides, particularly during the rainy season from November to March. In December 2019 and January 2020, severe flooding in Jakarta triggered by the worst rainfall on record, left swaths of the capital underwater and affected more than 400,000 people.

Experts have voiced concern that such extreme weather could become a new norm due to the climate crisis.

Sriwijaya Air crash

In another disaster that rocked the Southeast Asian nation, divers continue their search of the wreckage of Sriwijaya Air flight 182 while authorities push on in their investigation into the cause of the crash.

On Friday, search teams located the plane’s cockpit voice recorder but the memory unit was not with the case, Soerjanto Tjahjono, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Committee, told CNN.

Despite the missing crash memory unit, Soerjanto said they believed they would still be able to retrieve data.

Also on Friday, the committee successfully downloaded information contained in the recovered flight data recorder, which was found by divers and a remotely operated underwater vehicle last week.

“There are 330 parameters and all are in good condition. We are currently studying it,” Soerjanto said.

The findings from the flight data recorder data have so far confirmed earlier reports that the two engines were still operating when the plane hit the water.

Efforts to find and identify those who perished on board also continue. On Sunday, divers retrieved 10 bags of human remains as well as pieces and debris from the plane itself.

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