FEATURE: Lombok struggles to recover

LOMBOK, Indonesia (The Straits Times/ANN) - Utilities slowly being restored as more aid and heavy equipment arrive

Utilities in some parts of West Nusa Tenggara province have been restored following a powerful earthquake on Sunday, even as more aid and heavy equipment are arriving on the main island of Lombok that was badly hit.

Rescuers yesterday deployed 18 excavators to help in rescue work across the island as they desperately searched for survivors trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings, including mosques and community health centres, National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said at a press briefing.

More heavy equipment will be arriving from Bali and areas surrounding Lombok Island, including from private companies, he added.

Electricity in Tanjung district, one of the hardest-hit areas in North Lombok Regency, has been restored, and state-owned utilities company PLN is fixing the power network in other parts, Mr Sutopo said.

Similarly, telecommunication networks in the district and in Gili Trawangan, one of the most popular tourism hot spots in Lombok, have been repaired. "Our joint search-and-rescue team continues to reach out to areas that have been difficult to access," Mr Sutopo said.

He added: "The first day was really difficult because we faced a telecommunication problem. But on the second and third day, the issue began to be settled, and consequently, we can gather more data."

The magnitude-7 earthquake that rocked Lombok, an increasingly popular tourist destination, led to more than 156,000 people being evacuated or moved to shelters, especially in the northern part of the island, where many buildings were vulnerable to earthquakes.

The quake death toll climbed to 381 yesterday, while 1,033 people were injured, according to figures from the Indonesian Armed Forces. The quake also damaged 42,239 houses and 458 schools across West Nusa Tenggara province that includes Lombok.

The authorities are drilling wells and setting up hydrants in shelters to provide clean water, in addition to setting up portable toilets.

They have also established public kitchens in three districts - Tanjung, Bayan and Pemenang - in the most-affected area of North Lombok Regency.

Meanwhile, the police are patrolling neighbourhoods to thwart looting and theft in houses and shops left by their owners.

While Indonesia welcomes international assistance, Mr Sutopo said that President Joko Widodo has yet to formally request foreign aid.

A few non-governmental organisations from China and Singapore, among others, are entering Lombok to directly distribute aid, according to BNPB. But Mr Sutopo said these NGOs should suspend their activities until the government declares it is willing to accept help from abroad.

Ms Ruki, an official in charge of law and international relations at the agency, who goes by only one name, said affiliates of international NGOs that have operated in Indonesia are allowed to continue their work. "Affiliates of international NGOs under a humanitarian coordination team as well as mass organisations in Indonesia are permitted (to funnel aid)," she said at the press briefing.

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