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Tourists Evacuate as Indonesia’s Earthquake Death Toll Rises to 98

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LOMBOK, Indonesia – Rescuers were racing on Monday to aid victims of a new earthquake that has killed at least 98 people on the Island of Lombok, as tourists were evacuated from nearby islands as strong aftershocks continued to rock the holiday island.

The shallow 6.9-magnitude quake sparked terror among tourists and locals alike, coming just a week after another deadly tremor surged through Lombok, killing at least 17 people.

Rescuers on Monday searched for survivors in the rubble of houses, mosques and schools that were destroyed in the latest disaster which struck on Sunday evening.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho says the death toll from the Lombok earthquake has risen to 98 from the previously announced 91.

Officials have been saying the number of deaths would increase as rescuers reach cut-off areas in north Lombok.

The ruins of a mosque that collapsed in Lading-Lading village while people prayed inside was being pulled apart by a backhoe in search of victims.

An operation was also under way on Monday to evacuate some 1,200 tourists from the Gili Islands, three tiny, coral-fringed tropical islands a few kilometres off the northwest coast of Lombok that are particularly popular with backpackers and divers.

Local disaster officials said 358 tourists had been evacuated so far. At least one person, an Indonesian holidaymaker, was killed on the Gili islands while another tourist died on nearby Bali, which is a major destination.

Rescuers assisted by troops searched for survivors amid the rubble of houses, mosques and schools that were among the thousands of buildings destroyed in the latest disaster, which struck on Sunday evening.

“The search and rescue team is still scouring the scene and evacuating (people),” the national disaster agency spokesman said. “We estimate the number of victims will rise.”

The quake triggered a tsunami warning, which was later cancelled, and was also felt on the neighbouring island of Bali, one of Southeast Asia’s leading destinations, where tourists ran onto the streets as the tremor struck.

Sunday’s quake sent thousands of Lombok residents and tourists scrambling outdoors, where many spent the night as strong aftershocks including one of 5.3-magnitude continued to rattle the island.

The quake knocked out power in many areas, and parts of Lombok remained without electricity on Monday.

Hundreds of bloodied and bandaged victims were treated outside damaged hospitals in the main city Mataram and other hard-hit parts of the island.

Patients lay on beds under makeshift wards set up in tents, surrounded by drip stands and monitors, as doctors in blue scrubs attended to them.

“Many injured people are being treated outside of hospitals and health clinics because the buildings were damaged,” Nugroho said.

Most of the victims were in the mountainous north and east of the island, away from the main tourist spots and coastal districts in the south and west.

Najmul Akhyar, the head of North Lombok district, estimated that 80% of that region was damaged by the quake.

“We need heavy equipment because some mosques have collapsed and we suspect some worshippers are still trapped inside,” he told Metro TV.

It was the second quake in a week to hit Lombok, whose beaches and hiking trails draw holidaymakers from around the world.

That 6.4-magnitude quake left 17 people dead, damaged hundreds of buildings and triggered landslides that briefly trapped trekkers on popular mountain hiking routes.

In the latest quake, facilities at Lombok’s main airport were unaffected, although passengers were briefly evacuated from the main terminal.

Singapore’s Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, who was in Lombok for a security conference when the earthquake struck, described on Facebook how his hotel room on the 10th floor shook violently.

“Walls cracked, it was quite impossible to stand up,” he said.

Bali’s international airport suffered damage to its terminal but the runway was unaffected and operations had returned to normal, disaster agency officials said.

Indonesia, one of the most disaster-prone nations on earth, straddles the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tectonic plates collide and many of the world’s volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur.

In 2014, a devastating tsunami triggered by a magnitude 9.3 undersea earthquake off the coast of Sumatra in western Indonesia killed 220,000 people in countries around the Indian Ocean, including 168,000 in Indonesia.

Source: Agence France-Presse, Reuters