Rescue effort in Lombok turning to recovery operation as Indonesia earthquake death toll reaches 105

The rescue team had done everything it could to locate the body of man, who had been killed instantly when a massive earthquake collapsed his home Sunday night on the Indonesian island of Lombok.

They used hacksaws to cut a square into concrete wall. They used crowbars and dogs and a power drill. But by Tuesday afternoon, with the unmistakable stench of rotting flesh in the air, they were sweating and at their wits' end. The body of 60-year-old Abdul Malik, one of at least 105 people killed in the 7.0-magnitude quake, would have to stay under the rubble for a third day.

New Zealand holiday-makers have began to return home after the quake. Source: 1 NEWS

"It's taking far too long," said 50-year-old Masini, the victim's brother-in-law who watched more than a dozen helmeted emergency workers in orange jumpsuits drill into a thick layer of concrete.

The tragic scene underscored the challenges facing Indonesia's government as it struggles to deal with its latest natural disaster. The quake shattered homes and lives across this vast archipelago, displacing more than 84,000 people, according to disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

The quake hit the island of Lombok just before midnight on August 5. Source: 1 NEWS

At least 4,600 foreign and Indonesian tourists also have been evacuated from three smaller islands off Lombok's coast so far, Nugroho said. The islets are renowned for their crystal clear waters that draw snorkelers and divers from all over the world.

But with not enough boats to evacuate tourists quickly and too few planes to fly them out of Lombok, many visitors were forced to wait for hours or camp on beaches and the floor of the international airport in Mataram.

On the winding roads running north from the airport, which lead to destroyed villages shadowed by tall palm trees, the disaster's impact was evident. Villagers fearing aftershocks could be seen camped by the thousands under makeshift blue tarpaulins held together with bamboo and sticks. Some held up simple cardboard signs begging for aid as ambulances and other vehicles raced by.

"We need food and water," said one. "Please donate," said another.

The international charity Oxfam said drinking water was scarce because of a recent spell of extremely dry weather in Lombok. Food, medical supplies, tarps and clothes are also urgently needed, it said.

By late Tuesday, the government appeared to be focused on finding bodies, and wherever possible, survivors.

Masini said his brother-in-law, Abdul Malik, who owned a small grocery store next to his home in Tanjung, was sitting in his living room with family when the catastrophe struck. Although his family managed to make it out, Abdul Malik was crushed by a thick concrete wall.

The rescuers are working "too slow," Masini said. "They should be bringing in heavy equipment to speed this up."

Aprintinus Titus, from the National Search and Rescue Agency, acknowledged they needed better tools. But he said "we will not give up until we pull him out of this rubble. We know how hard his family is suffering."

Damaged houses in the north of the Indonesian island of Lombok after the magnitude 6.9 earthquake.
Damaged houses in the north of the Indonesian island of Lombok after the magnitude 6.9 earthquake. Source: Associated Press