After earthquake terror, hundreds climb down from volcano slopes

Nearly 700 trekkers headed down Mount Rinjani in Indonesia yesterday, a day after a powerful earthquake terrified the climbers as boulders tumbled down the slopes of the volcano.

Rescue team members give treatment to a climber yesterday after walking down from Mount Rinjani at Sembalun village in Lombok Timur, Indonesia.

Nearly 700 trekkers headed down Mount Rinjani on Indonesia’s tourist island of Lombok yesterday, a day after a powerful earthquake of magnitude 6.4 terrified the climbers as boulders tumbled down the slopes of the volcano.

Officials said the death toll from Sunday’s earthquake, which was centred on the northern part of Lombok, but was also felt on the resort island of Bali to the west, stood at 16. More than 335 people were injured, many by collapsing buildings.

“I thought I was going to die,” said John Robyn Buenavista, a 23-year-old American, who was at the summit when the quake hit. “I was clinging to the ground. It felt like it lasted forever. I saw people fall off, but it’s a blur.”

The national park authority said yesterday that a key route to the peak of the 3,726-meter volcano had been cleared, and a helicopter was dropping supplies to others still picking their way to safety.

An estimated 689 people were still on Rinjani, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman of the national disaster mitigation agency.

“Hundreds of trekkers in the crater in climbing areas couldn’t come down when they wanted to, because the paths were covered by debris from landslides and there were fears of subsequent landslides,” Sutopo said.

As many as 820 people were on Mount Rinjani when the quake struck, making two trails impassable, Sutopo said on Twitter late on Sunday.

Thais formed the largest group among the 637 foreigners who registered to climb the mountain on July 27 and 28, making up 337, with French, Dutch and Spanish the next-biggest contingents.

Mount Rinjani National Park said in a Twitter message yesterday that a key route, Senaru, had been reopened for people to come down.

Authorities expected 500 trekkers to arrive at the foot of the mountain, said Agung Pramuja, a disaster mitigation official in Indonesia’s region of West Nusa Tenggara.

Buenavista, the US tourist, said he was about to take photographs at the crater edge when the earthquake struck.

“I started running to the trail,” he told reporters by telephone from the Gili Islands.

“At one point, I saw people with half of their bodies stuck in the rocks and I just couldn’t move. I felt paralyzed and stopped moving. The guides were screaming, ‘Don’t die, don’t die.’ One of the guides had to shake me and take me by the hand. He told me that I had to go, and that they would be okay.”

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