Lombok earthquake: Death toll rises to 259 amid rescue efforts

The death toll from a magnitude 6.9 earthquake on the Indonesian island of Lombok on Sunday has risen to 259 and may go higher still, officials say.

The region has been hit by more than 350 aftershocks, the worst of which struck yesterday.

The latest tremor had a magnitude of 5.9 or 6.2, according to monitors. It brought down some buildings.

Rescue workers are still digging through rubble and trying to get aid to survivors of the earlier, larger quake.

“This number will continue increasing as rescue teams continue to find victims under collapsed buildings,” officials said of the latest death toll.

Indonesia’s chief security minister had earlier said 319 people had died, while local media have reported figures as high as 347.

But national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told the BBC that only 259 deaths had been verified.

The Red Cross said the initial quake was “exceptionally destructive”.

Some villages had “completely collapsed”, said a Red Cross official in Lombok, Christopher Rassi.

The government said more than 1400 people were injured and more than 270,000 displaced.

The new tremor hit off the north-west coast of Lombok, sending people running into the streets in panic. No tsunami warning was issued.

Mr Sutopo classified it as an aftershock. A British tourist on nearby Bali told the BBC that it had been felt there, causing people to leave their hotel rooms in the southern resort area of Seminyak.

Emergency workers are gradually starting to reach more remote areas of Lombok as they continue their rescue missions.

But Mr Sutopo said some areas in the north had still not received any aid.

Lombok is a roughly 4500 sq km island east of the slightly larger island of Bali.

Most people live in basic housing in small communities. Tens of thousands are now sleeping out in the open or in the ruins of their homes.

“We are still waiting for assessments from some of the more remote areas in the north of the island, but it is already clear that Sunday’s earthquake was exceptionally destructive,” said Mr Rassi.

“I visited villages yesterday that were completely collapsed,” he said.

Other teams in East and North Lombok had reported villages where 75 percent of homes were damaged.

With hospitals and clinics also affected, many of the injured have had to be treated in the open air or in makeshift clinics.

Monday’s quake came only days after a slightly smaller one, which killed at least 16 people. There are growing concerns that the important tourism industry will be badly hit at what should be a busy time.

Thousands of tourists visiting Lombok – as well as the nearby Gili Islands and Bali – have been evacuated or have chosen to leave since the weekend.

“We’ve had light earthquakes in the past, but never anything like this,” hotel chain owner Marcel De Rijk told Reuters.

“We’ve lost a lot of bookings and future guests are in wait-and-see mode. I don’t think people will choose Lombok anymore this summer.”

Indonesia is prone to earthquakes because it lies on the Ring of Fire – the line of frequent quakes and volcanic eruptions that circles virtually the entire Pacific rim.

More than half of the world’s active volcanoes above sea level are part of the ring.

-BBC