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 hampered by heavy rains, roads blocked by landslides, broken communications lines and powerful aftershocks. 24 people remained missing while search efforts continued.
Officials had put the number of deaths at 272 as of Thursday afternoon from the 5.6-magnitude shallow quake that shook a mountainous area and caused damage across a wide area of distinct villages separated by rugged, hilly roads. Some local officials said previous central government figures were underestimated, partly because some families buried their dead shortly after the quake, before emergency services reached their villages. Officials said they were working to match the data by collecting 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 famous for its rice, destroyed tens of thousands of homes and triggered massive landslides that swallowed entire communities. About a third of those killed were children trapped in derelict houses or schools in a rural area with lax building standards, officials said in the days after the quake.
The death toll, injured and tens of thousands displaced from their homes, was high even for Indonesia, where earthquakes and other natural disasters are a near daily occurrence. Officials said the sloping terrain and unstable ground added to the extent of the damage.
Some villages had remained inaccessible by land for more than two days after the quake, which was particularly destructive as the epicenter was only about 6 miles deep, meaning the seismic waves lost less power as they made their way to the earth’s surface. Strong shaking was also felt in the capital, Jakarta, 60 miles away.
Indonesia is an archipelago of about 270 million people, situated at the meeting point of several tectonic plates and along an arc of volcanoes and fault lines. The devastation from powerful earthquakes was exacerbated by landslides caused by deforestation, artisanal mining and urban development.