New aftershock pummels traumatized Indonesian island of Lombok as death toll climbs

A strong aftershock shook the traumatized Indonesian island of Lombok on Thursday, where tens of thousands were already homeless from an earlier quake, and sent panicked residents out of their homes and cars as buildings collapsed.  

The latest tremor, the third in over a week, had a magnitude of 6.2, according to Indonesia’s geological agency. It did not have the potential to cause a tsunami, the agency added. The United States Geological Survey measured the quake at 5.9. 

The official toll from the original earthquake on Sunday is at 164, but other government agencies have offered estimates of up to twice as much. Aid agencies say the number is likely to increase dramatically as they gain access to the worst-hit parts of the island.

Humanitarian groups say that they are focusing their efforts on reaching these areas which have so far been impassable because of collapsed buildings, roads and other destruction related to Sunday’s quake. 

“Access is tough, because the earthquake [on Sunday] was so strong and paralyzed a lot of buildings,” said Husni, a spokesman for the International Federation of the Red Cross who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

Speaking to The Washington Post by phone en route to a badly-damaged village, he said almost 80 percent of the buildings and structures, including homes, schools and community facilities, have been destroyed in that area. Some villages have collapsed entirely.

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Several bridges have been destroyed and landslides have hit, making aid support from both the government and international nongovernmental organizations very challenging. 

“So far, we have been unable to pass through those areas. We are still working on it,” Husni added.

Witnesses Thursday afternoon described scenes of fresh panic as the new tremors hit. Displaced residents living in shelters rushed out of their temporary homes, fearing more destruction to structures already weakened from the previous two quakes. 

Indonesian government rescue agencies were continuing to tally the number of deaths from Sunday’s quake, which the National Disaster Mitigation Agency puts at 164. Local government agencies and rescue agencies have issued different estimates, which one agency said could be as high as 381. 

One aid agency, Yayasan Plan International Indonesia, has warned that thousands of children have been left homeless, forced to sleep in open fields without warm clothing or blankets. More than 1,000 schools have been damaged, the organization said. 

“The shelters people have made for themselves are not safe or secure. Overnight the children are cold, they don’t have blankets or proper clothing to keep warm,” said Hana Yulia, an emergency response worker from the group currently in Lombok. “A lot of children have developed colds, so they are suffering.”

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