“The majority who died were hit by buildings. Some were hit on the head,” said Herman Suherman, head of the Cianjur regency. “All you can hear here is ambulance sirens everywhere.”
More than 2,200 houses have been damaged, according to officials, with approximately 13,000 people displaced. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake occurred at a depth of only six miles (10 kilometers), making it more devastating.
Local television footage showed scenes of chaos as crowds of injured people, some bandaged and bleeding, rushed to hospitals and clinics for treatment. Some were transported in ambulances, but others, including young children, were brought in on motorcycles or carried in by relatives, witnesses said.
Patients at Cianjur Hospital, some on stretchers, had to be evacuated outside for fear that the building could collapse. Some members of the crowd ran inside to retrieve tables and other equipment to carry the injured to safe locations, locals said.
Ricky Susan, a local journalist in Cianjur, said he was having coffee at a military barracks when the quake struck. By the time he fled outside, the building behind him was still shaking violently, and across the barracks, a minimart had been destroyed.
“I saw a group of the minimarket employees standing outside the ruins, and they were all crying,” he said. “They told me that one of them didn’t make it out and was buried in the rubble.”
Suharyanto, head of the National Agency for Disaster Management, said the priority was rescuing the injured and taking them for medical treatment. Like many Indonesians, he goes by one name.
Access to the stricken region is likely to be an issue after the quake, which appears to have significantly damaged infrastructure in the area. Electricity and cellphone service were patchy in parts of Cianjur.
Dwikorita Karnawati, head of Indonesia’s Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysical Agency, said during a news conference that the earthquake caused a landslide on the outskirts of Cianjur, cutting off road access from the neighboring Puncak Pass, a mountain route in West Java.
She added that 45 aftershocks were recorded, but no tsunami warning was issued.
The quake was reportedly felt in the neighboring cities of Sukabumi and Bandung. Residents in the capital, Jakarta, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of Cianjur, also felt significant shaking when the quake struck, and some buildings were evacuated.
Indonesia is in a seismic zone and frequently experiences earthquakes, which can cause significant casualties especially when followed by tsunamis. In 2018, a 7.5-magnitude earthquake that was trailed by a tsunami in the central island of Sulawesi killed more than 2,000 people, according to the United Nations. In 2009, a quake that struck southern Sumatra led to 1,117 deaths.
Indonesia also often experiences extreme weather events and other natural disasters near the end of the year, when it is hit by heavy monsoon rains, which can cause floods and mudslides.
“We need to remain vigilant,” Ridwan Kamil, governor of West Java province, told local reporters, adding that the government was ready to respond to any aftershocks or other emergencies.
“This is disaster season at the end of the year, which is frightening,” he added.
Rebecca Tan in Singapore contributed to this report.