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Death toll from the quake in Indonesia is expected to rise as searches continue

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In Indonesia, emergency workers are racing to find people trapped under rubble after an earthquake there yesterday. Officials say hundreds have already died. That count is expected to rise.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Rescue equipment arrived overnight in the city of Cianjur near the epicenter of the quake.

MARTIN: We're going to turn to freelance journalist Aisyah Llewellyn, who is in Sumatra, Indonesia. Good morning. Thank you so much for being here.

AISYAH LLEWELLYN: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Just give us a sense, Aisyah, of the rescue efforts. What's the status at this point?

LLEWELLYN: Well, obviously, it's a really difficult time. You have to understand also the context of what's going on in the country at the moment. So the quake itself was 5.6 in magnitude. That's relatively small. We've seen much bigger. But it was also quite shallow, just 10 kilometers, which is quite close to the surface. But unfortunately, also, we're gripped by the rainy season at the moment, so the earth is very wet. We call this time of year in Indonesia disaster season from November, December into January. That's often when we see a lot of disasters because the rains come, it causes flooding, and that can cause landslides. And unfortunately, that's exactly what happened in this case.

The earthquake came, and because the land around it was so wet and unstable, it then also triggered these landslides which collapsed on top of villages and carried away houses. And, of course, as you said, the rescue workers are desperately trying to dig people out, but because of all that mud and debris, of course, it's going to be really, really difficult.

MARTIN: Can you describe the area where this happened? I mean, is it densely populated?

LLEWELLYN: The center is quite densely populated, but there's also a lot of damage out in the villages around the main area. And my understanding is that those are the areas that have been badly hit because in the center of town, obviously, the buildings are a lot more sturdy. Out in the villages, the buildings are much more rustic and, you know, not built, really, to withstand an earthquake of this kind. And so my understanding is that a lot of the houses there, just as soon as the earthquake started, just collapsed. I mean, I spoke to one man today who said he ran out of his house in a village on the outskirts of town, and he said, all I could see around me was my neighbors' houses just falling, just toppling to the ground.

MARTIN: Oh. Any reports on critical infrastructure, like hospitals?

LLEWELLYN: Well, that was also another problem. So in Cianjur, there are a number of hospitals, but of course, what happened when the earthquake hit was they needed to evacuate all the buildings, and that included the local hospitals. So you had a situation where you had hundreds of people outside the hospitals in Cianjur because all the patients who were already in hospital were being evacuated for safety reasons. And then you had all the injured from the earthquake coming to the hospital. At the same time, the electricity went out, as you would expect, across Cianjur. So there was no electricity, and so everyone was kind of pooled outside in the parking lots of the hospitals, and really, the emergency responders just had to treat them there.

We saw people lying in the parking lots with IVs being put into them, people being stitched up who had cuts all over them, people who had broken limbs kind of having to have them splinted and just having to wait outside until it was safe to go back inside. My understanding is that today the authorities worked really hard to get all those people back inside the hospital. But what - just what an awful confluence...

MARTIN: Yeah.

LLEWELLYN: ...Of factors to all come together at the same time.

MARTIN: Aisyah Llewellyn, journalist reporting from Medan in Sumatra, Indonesia, on the earthquake that has occurred there. Thank you so much for sharing your reporting. We appreciate it.

LLEWELLYN: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.