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Dozens Killed As Earthquake Slams Indonesia


A 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck the Indonesian resort island of Lombok yesterday. It killed about a hundred people. Initially, there were fears of a possible tsunami. There have also been intense aftershocks. David Lipson covers Indonesia for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and he spoke with me from Lombok.

DAVID LIPSON: It's been a difficult day. We started at the airport, which is sort of at the southern end of the island, and there we saw many walking wounded and other tourists just desperately trying to get off the island. We started weaving our way up the western coast of Lombok. And the further north we went - the closer to the epicenter of this powerful earthquake - the more destruction we discovered.

SHAPIRO: I was on the island of Lombok last year, and I remember very hilly terrain and roads hugging the edge of the coast with small hotels or larger ones that are being built. What does it look like as you try to drive through it now? Are we talking about landslides, cracks in the road, trees in the pathway? What is the image?

LIPSON: Look, the road that we saw was pretty good. There is certainly a lot of rocks on the side of the road. The trees are OK. They seem to have held up, but it's mostly the man-made structures that are a very big problem. And by the time you get sort of an hour north of Mataram, there is no building - there's no structure that is untouched. They range from utterly destroyed to large cracks, broken glass, but absolutely every single building is damaged as far as we could see.

The locals are huddled together in whatever shelters they can find. Some of them are under large, plastic tarpaulins. Others are huddled in whatever remaining structures have survived. And interestingly, it's the very small structures - the kind of thatched roof, bamboo structures that have been OK. It's the bricks and mortar buildings that have come crashing down.

SHAPIRO: So what's the greatest risk right now? Do people need clean food, fuel? What's the most urgent, pressing need?

LIPSON: The locals that we spoke to were saying that they needed water. They needed food. They needed clothing. They're too scared to go back to their homes. But the situation in regard to supplies isn't yet desperate, I'd have to say. The bigger danger, I think, is aftershocks and just the general dangers that come with rubble and the like.

SHAPIRO: It was just a year ago that a volcano was threatening this general part of Indonesia. Is this an area that is accustomed to and prepared for earthquakes and natural disasters of this sort, or did this really take people by surprise?

LIPSON: Earthquakes are a regular occurrence, but this was a big one. And it shocked the locals here. And also the fact that it comes just a week after another very large earthquake - the locals that we spoke to, they thought the end of it was a week ago. They did not expect to see such a large quake that we saw here in the last 24 hours. And then to have it accompanied by the tsunami warning really just sent many people over the edge.

SHAPIRO: David Lipson is an Indonesia correspondent for ABC Australia. Thank you for joining us today.

LIPSON: Pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.