Earthquake traps hundreds of hikers on volcano

Hundreds of people are trapped on a volcano on the popular Indonesian tourist island of Lombok, after a devastating earthquake killed more than a dozen people.

Posted: Jul 31, 2018 4:55 AM
Updated: Jul 31, 2018 5:07 AM

Nearly 700 people are trapped on a volcano on the popular Indonesian tourist island of Lombok, after a devastating earthquake killed more than a dozen people.

A rescue operation is currently underway for tourists caught in landslides on Mount Rinjani, an area popular with hiking enthusiasts. According to National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, 689 people are still trapped on and around the 3,726 meter (12,224 ft) mountain following the shallow 6.4-magnitude earthquake that struck Sunday morning.

At least 260 people had already been evacuated by Sunday afternoon, Sutopo said on Twitter, while a spokesman for Rinjani National Park said another 109 had been rescued as of 2 p.m. local time (3 a.m. ET) Monday afternoon.

According to Indonesia's national disaster management agency, 149 climbers are still believed to be stranded on the volcano itself, while 500 people are trapped in Sembalun Village on the volcano's slopes, and an additional 40 tourists are in nearby Batu Ceper.

At least one climber had died after being struck by falling rocks, Sutopo said.

Videos given to CNN by a Thai trekking group, Trekmania, who were on Rinjani when the earthquake struck show enormous clouds of dust covering the slopes of the mountain, triggered by the landslides.

Tipatai Phusit, a hiker from Thailand, was on top of Mount Rinjani when the earthquake hit, and said he saw a number of people hit by rocks and debris.

"I saw landslides and there were some people falling down. After that I was falling down there too," Tipatai told CNN in a message on Facebook. He added that the group he was with quickly climbed back to the summit and descended the mountain to safety.

A rescue team of 184 people set off Monday morning to evacuate the hikers, including special military, police and medical teams.

So far 15 people across the island have been reported dead following the earthquake, while another 162 have been reported injured, according to Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency.

Pictures from the scene of the disaster showed locals picking through the rubble of their collapsed homes, and the injured hastily bundled into makeshift emergency shelters.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo flew to the island Monday to meet with the communities affected by the earthquake as emergency aid began to be dispersed to the island.

Among those killed in the quake was a 30-year-old Malaysian female tourist, Antara said. Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail mourned her loss in a statement Sunday.

More than 100 aftershocks

Indonesia is no stranger to destructive earthquakes, sitting on the area of intense seismic and volcanic activity known as the Pacific Ring of Fire.

The 40,000 kilometer (25,000 mile) area stretches from Japan and Indonesia on one side of the Pacific, all the way across to California on the other.

According to Antara, there had been more than 120 aftershocks recorded by the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) as of Sunday afternoon.

Jean Paul Volchaert, who owns the Puncak Hotel on Lombok, told CNN that the area gets small earthquakes "every month or so" but Sunday's tremor was the worst he'd felt.

"We were still sleeping when we felt the earthquake, so we rushed outside of our building. There was about 20 seconds of shaking, the water in the pool was making quite large waves," he said.

Volchaert said while there had been little damage to his building or neighborhood, reports were coming in of severe damage on the north of the island.

"We felt aftershocks for two hours after the initial earthquake, so we're worried that there could be more damage caused," he said.

Aid distributed to Lombok

The Indonesian Red Crescent said it was dispatching hundreds of tarpaulins, blankets and hygiene kits to the affected areas as part of their initial response to the earthquake.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian government has been working to supply mineral water, tents and food supplies to the affected, according to Antara.

President Widodo flew into Lombok early Monday.

"The President will meet with the people affected by the disaster and also hand over the aid," government official Bey Machmudin told Antara.

Deputy Head of Mission Zamshari Sahaharan at the Malaysian Embassy in Jakarta said they were encouraging all Malaysian who knew tourists in Lombok to contact consular officials.

He said the Malaysian government was ready to provide further aid to their Indonesian counterparts as necessary.

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