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Dozens trapped as Indonesia quake toll rises to 49

Rescue workers on Indonesia's Java island searched by hand on Thursday for dozens of people trapped by a major 7.0-magnitude earthquake that killed at least 49, officials said.

world Updated: Sep 03, 2009 15:40 IST

Rescue workers on Indonesia's Java island searched by hand on Thursday for dozens of people trapped by a major 7.0-magnitude earthquake that killed at least 49, officials said.

Police and soldiers were called in to help find people buried in their homes by earthquake-triggered landslides in a village in Cianjur district south of the capital Jakarta in the wake of the quake, officials said.

At least 40 people were trapped under rubble, dirt and boulders in Cikangkareng village while over 5,000 people had been displaced by the quake, health ministry crisis centre head Rustam Pakaya said.

Disaster management agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono said widespread damage in the lush, crowded area was hampering rescue efforts.

"So far we are digging them out manually with hoes," Kardono said.

In the village, the earthquake caused landslides that stripped hillsides bare and buried homes.

Police, rescue workers and residents used their bare hands and improvised tools to uncover the dirt-covered bodies of people and livestock from underneath piles of rocks and earth.

Heavy machinery was used to move stones amid fallen trees.

"The village is in a valley and the landslide buried a dozen houses about 20 metres under. You can't see the roofs at all, everything is completely buried. The chance of anyone surviving is very, very small," Kardono said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and top ministers travelled to the disaster site to inspect the rescue effort and speak to victims.

Officials said the worst damage from the earthquake, which struck off the south coast of Java at around 3:00 pm (0800 GMT) Wednesday was in the districts of Cianjur, Garut and Tasikmalaya in West Java province.

Mariani, a hospital staff member in Tasikmalaya, said medics had treated 43 people.

"Two of them, a 43-year-old woman and a seven-year-old boy, died from serious head injuries after they were crushed under a collapsed wall. Their bodies were all covered with blood," she said.

"The hospital floors shook so hard yesterday and patients and staff were shouting 'Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! (God is greater)' as we rushed to get all the bedridden patients out of the building."

The quake was also strongly felt in Jakarta, 200 kilometres (123 miles) from the epicentre, where panicked residents poured out of swaying office towers, shopping malls and homes as the tremors hit and at least one person was killed.

"About 18,000 houses and buildings have been damaged," disaster agency official Maman Susanto said.

The quake was also felt in other Indonesian islands, including Bali and Sumatra.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said his country had offered assistance to neighbouring Indonesia to deal with the aftermath of the earthquake.

"At this stage, I am not aware of any requests for assistance from the Indonesian authorities," Rudd told public broadcaster ABC Radio.

"Of course, we stand ready to provide that assistance."

The West Java provincial administration promised to allocate 90 billion rupiah (8.8 million dollars) of recovery aid, according to the Koran Tempo newspaper.

Indonesia's meteorology and geophysics agency issued a tsunami warning after the quake but cancelled it after it became clear there was no danger.

Agency technical chief Suharjono said aftershocks were continuing but were unlikely to cause serious damage.

"They are of a smaller magnitude. They are not frequent and are about 5.0-magnitude. People won't feel their impact," Suharjono said.

Indonesia sits on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, where several tectonic plates converge.

A 7.7-magnitude quake triggered a tsunami off southern Java in 2006, killing 596 people and displacing about 74,000.

A massive quake off the coast of the island of Sumatra in 2004 triggered a catastrophic tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people around Asia, including 168,000 in Indonesia.