A shallow earthquake hit Indonesia’s main island of Java, killing hundreds of people and injuring at least 1,000 others with fears the casualty figures could rise. There are still 151 people missing after a magnitude 5.6 earthquake hit the island on 21 November, with evacuation efforts being hampered by landslides in some places.
The US Geological Survey said the earthquake hit in the Cianjur region in West Java province at a depth of 6.2 miles, which caused landslides across the region. As many as 145 aftershocks were recorded in the hours after the quake, according to the weather and geophysics agency BMKG, with officials warning more landslides could follow in coming weeks.
Herman Suherman, a district official from Cianjur, had told Kompas TV: "I’m still treating people who are sick or injured. This is overwhelming. I’ve divided the tasks of the Head of Police, Dandim. I’m at the hospital treating sick people”. He added that out of the hundreds of residents who were injured, as many as 70% of them were considered serious.
What happened in Java this week?
The earthquake struck at around 1:21PM local time on 21 November, according to local officials. Suherman said that the quake was felt as far away as Singapore. He added that electricity was down in the area and disrupting communications efforts and that people in the area of Cugenang were unable to be evacuated because of a landslide blocking access.
Head of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) Dwikorita Karnawati said: "So what just happened was in a position around Sukabumi-Cianjur, around that area and it was an earthquake caused by a shear fault with a magnitude of 5.6”.
She added: "It is suspected that this is a movement from the Cimandiri Fault, so it is moving again”. Earthquakes occur frequently across the sprawling archipelago nation of more than 270 million people, but it is uncommon for them to be felt in Jakarta.
Indonesia straddles the so-called "Pacific Ring of Fire", a highly seismically active zone, where different plates on the earth’s crust meet and create a large number of earthquakes and volcanoes.
How many people died?
Disaster agency chief Suharyanto told reporters that more than 1,000 people had been injured, 58,000 displaced and 22,000 houses damaged. The earthquake struck around 75km (45 miles) southeast of the capital, Jakarta. District official Suherman emphasised that currently his team required a lot of orthopaedic doctors and other medical personnel due to the severity of the injuries.
Officials said many of the dead were killed when poorly constructed buildings collapsed, with the president calling for reconstruction efforts to include earthquake-proof housing. Landslides and rough terrain hampered rescue efforts on Tuesday, said Henri Alfiandi, head of National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas). “The challenge is the affected area is spread out [...] On top of that, the roads in these villages are damaged", Alfiandi told reporters. Many of the victims were children who had been at school at the time the quake hit, he said.
When was the last major earthquake in Indonesia?
In February 2022, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake killed at least 25 people and injured more than 460 in West Sumatra province. Tremors were felt as far away as Malaysia and Singapore. In January 2021, at least 105 people died and nearly 6,500 were injured in West Sulawesi province following a major earthquake of similar magnitude.
On 26 December 2004, an underwater earthquake off the coast of Indonesia triggered a tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people. The 100-foot-tall wall of water devastated the coastline of nine countries on the Indian Ocean and thousands of communities were left in ruins. The earthquake was the third-largest ever recorded and the largest in the 21st century.