The authorities fear that many victims are still buried under the rubble of buildings after earthquakes hit central Aceh, with at least 24 fatalities reported as of Wednesday.
Samsul Maarif of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said in Pekanbaru that the fatalities were in Bener Meriah and Central Aceh regencies.
He believed the number of fatalities could be higher as the quakes were quite shallow and located in hilly, residential areas.
“Reports on quake victims change rapidly. Many residents are still listed as missing,” he said at the Riau Haze Task Force command post in Pekanbaru, Riau.
“We’re still looking for victims, digging through collapsed houses and those hit by landslides, as there might be victims inside.”
Samsul said there were 22 fatalities but warned the number could increase.
Bener Meriah regency was jolted by a 6.2-magnitude earthquake at 2:37 p.m. Two aftershocks with magnitudes of 5.5 and 5.3 hit at around 8:55 p.m and 10:36 p.m., respectively.
The epicenter of the quake was located 35 kilometers southwest of the regency at a depth of 10 kilometers. Bener Meriah is a mountainous area situated between 1,000 and 1,500 meters above sea level.
The BNPB has deployed an Air Force helicopter to drop logistics in remote areas while an airplane was sent on a reconnaissance mission to pinpoint logistics dropping zones.
The agency was also ready to deploy, if needed, one of the 15 companies of soldiers and police officers in Riau extinguishing forest fires, to help with disaster relief efforts in Aceh.
“The troops could be transferred to Bener Meriah from Riau using a Hercules transport aircraft after a cloud-seeding mission this morning [Wednesday],” Samsul said.
He added that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had ordered the BNPB to carry out emergency response activities.
The President did not have an immediate plan to visit Bener Meriah, presidential spokesman Julian Aldrin Pasha said.
“The President has been informed conditions are gradually returning to normal. There were victims from the disaster but the situation has been handled well,” Julian said at the State Palace.
Yudhoyono had also ordered relevant Cabinet members to increase coordination in accordance with the needs of those suffering from the quake, Julian added.
Meanwhile, in Blang Mancung village in Ketol district, Central Aceh, local residents were distraught by the fact that most of their houses had been flattened by the quake.
“I don’t know what to do as all houses have been destroyed,” local resident Ariani said. “We’re still traumatized because the earthquake was so strong and terrifying.”
Local residents were constructing plastic tents and lighting fires to protect themselves from the cold mountain breeze.
Blang Mancung village head Wagiran said seven people had been killed in the village. Five of them were children who were reciting the Koran in the mosque.
“There were 12 children reciting the Koran. Six survived while one is still unaccounted for, probably buried in the collapsed mosque,” he said.
Wagiran added 90 percent of about 1,000 houses in the village were destroyed.