The death toll from Monday’s catastrophic earthquake in Indonesia’s most populous province has risen to 310, officials said on Friday, after days of rescue efforts that had been impeded by heavy rains, landslide-blocked roads, downed communication lines and powerful aftershocks. Twenty-four people remained missing, as search efforts continued.
Officials had put the number of deaths from the shallow 5.6-magnitude quake, which rattled a mountainous area and caused damage across a wide area of disparate villages separated by rugged, hilly roads, at 272 as of Thursday afternoon. Some local officials had said earlier figures given by the central government were an undercount, in part because some families had buried their dead soon after the quake, before responders reached their villages. Officials said they were working on cross-checking the data by gathering death certificates or recording the identities of victims from the cemeteries of all affected villages.
The earthquake in Cianjur, an agricultural region in West Java Province famed for its rice, destroyed tens of thousands of homes and set off massive landslides that swallowed whole communities. About a third of those killed were children who had been trapped in houses or schools that crumbled, in a rural area with lax building standards, officials said in the days after the quake.
The number of the dead and injured, as well as tens of thousands forced from their homes, was high even for Indonesia, where earthquakes and other natural disasters are virtually a daily occurrence. Officials said the sloping terrain and unstable soil contributed to the extent of the damage.
Some villages had remained inaccessible by land more than two days after the earthquake, which was particularly destructive because the epicenter was only about 6 miles deep, meaning the seismic waves lost less of their force traveling to the surface of the earth. Strong shaking was also felt in the capital, Jakarta, 60 miles away.
Indonesia is an archipelago of about 270 million people that sits at the meeting point of several tectonic plates and along an arc of volcanoes and fault lines. Devastation from powerful quakes has been exacerbated by landslides caused by deforestation, small-scale mining and urban development.