Dedi Supriyadi tore at the rubble with his bare hands on Monday, desperately searching for survivors trapped amongst the thousands of collapsed buildings that now litter the Indonesian island of Lombok. The island, in West Nusa Tenggara, was hit with a powerful magnitude 7.0 earthquake Sunday night that left nearly 100 dead and thousands without a home.
Now its up to men like Dedi, an officer with Indonesia's search and rescue agency, to try to save whoever might still be trapped beneath the rubble—however they can. I was in Sajang Village, in East Lombok, with the search and rescue teams (SAR) on Monday as they went house-to-house searching amidst the crumbled homes for signs of life. Rescue equipment and heavy machinery still hadn't reached the village, so Dedi and his colleagues had to dig through the ruins by hand, working together to move heavy slabs of stone and concrete.
Hours after I arrived, the SAR team found their first survivor—a man named Hendri. He had spent the night trapped beneath the rubble of his home before search teams were able to pull him from the structure, his body bloody and bruised, but alive. The crowd erupted into cheers of "Allahu Akbar!" as he emerged from the ruins.
Soon they found a second survivor, a 10-year-old girl who was quickly rushed by car to a health center in Sembalun, about 20 minutes away. Dedi was relieved that his team was able to find even two survivors, but he knew there was so much more they could be doing to help... if only they had the correct equipment.
“We still don’t have any support equipment, so we try to make do," Dedi told me. "I hope help is on the way."
The scene in East Lombok was catastrophic. Nearly every building, aside from those with thicker walls like mosques and schools, was leveled in the quake. Officials still don't know the true cost of the disaster, but early estimates place the number of dead close to 100. SAR teams have successfully rescued some 200 people from collapsed structures, but no one knows how many more there might be out there.
Search crews carry the body of a man found under the rubble of a collapsed mosque. Photo by author
I rode my motorcycle north to see if I could get a closer look at the search efforts in North Lombok, the epicenter of the destruction, where 72 people were killed in villages on the slopes of Mount Rinjani alone. The street was heavily cracked, forcing most traffic to a smaller side street that was only wide enough for motorcycles. There were people living in makeshift camps everywhere. The homes were too badly damaged to return, and wherever there was enough space—an open field, the side of the road—a tent city of tarps had sprung to life.
The bridge connecting East Lombok with North Lombok, in Kuko Putih, was knocked out by a landslide, so I parked my bike on the east side of the bridge and climbed over the loose earth. People passed me, walking in the opposite direction, all of them residents of North Lombok who were heading for higher ground. Fears of a tsunami were still very real in Lombok. The national disaster agency (BNPB) lifted the tsunami warning Sunday night, but more than 100 aftershocks continued to shake the island, each one raising new panic about a potential tsunami.
The isolation of villages in North Lombok only added to the panic and confusion. Cell signals were weak after the earthquake, and the internet was totally down. It was nearly impossible for anyone to receive a timely update from the BNPB, let alone trust that the tsunami warning system would work. So when the earth shook, people fled, concerned that a giant wave might reach them before the warnings from the BNPB could.
The SAR teams in North Lombok were equally ill-equipped for the task at hand. They too were searching the rubble by hand since the heavy equipment had yet to arrive.
In the town of Tanjung, in North Lombok, I met Col. Czi Ahmad Rizal Ramdhani, of the local Military Resort Command (Danrem). His rescue team was trying to save 30 victims trapped under a mosque, but, without the needed equipment, he only managed to save two so far. It would have been a different story if they had an excavator, he told me.
"The rest of the victims are still buried beneath the large dome, and we need heavy equipment to rescue them,” Ahmad explained.
Earlier in the day, I asked Agus Ichi, a public relations officer with the Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas), where SAR teams were concentrating their efforts. "All of North Lombok," he replied.
The next morning, several large trucks carrying excavators and front loaders arrived in North Lombok from Mataram. Hopefully it's not already too late.
This article originally appeared on VICE ID.