Mataram, Indonesia – More than 500 hikers and guides stranded by landslides on an Indonesian mountain after an earthquake has returned to safety, with some recalling their terror when tonnes of rock cascaded down.
The shallow 6.4-magnitude quake, which struck early Sunday on Lombok island and was followed by scores of aftershocks, triggered major landslides on Mount Rinjani, blocking the hiking routes that criss-cross it.
Some 800 trekkers and their guides were on the mountain when the quake struck including citizens from the United States, France, the Netherlands, Thailand, Germany and many other countries, according to search and rescue officials.
Hundreds managed to find a way down on Sunday and over 500 more reached safety Monday night.
Some returned with harrowing tales of being caught out by the quake, which killed 16 people across the holiday island including one on the mountain.
One Thai tourist, who reached the foot of the mountain Tuesday morning, felt the ground shake beneath her sleeping bag.
“I felt the earth move …and thought ‘Huh? What’s happening?'” she said.
“I got out of my bed and then I saw a landslide (with) rocks falling down.”
A male friend said he watched parts of Rinjani’s slopes collapse.
“The whole mountain, rocks, fell down — I was a bit afraid,” he said.
– ‘Healthy and safe’ –
The remaining 500 or so hikers were able to start climbing down on Monday after guides discovered an alternate route that was unaffected by the landslides.
“543 hikers have been evacuated — they arrived last night,” national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told AFP.
“There are now six people left… They are all healthy and safe.”
Most of the trekkers reached the base of the mountain by late Monday evening, according to I Gusti Lanang Wiswananda, a spokesman for the search and rescue agency on the island’s main city of Mataram.
“They were all tired but in good condition and were checked by our medical teams on the ground upon arrival,” he told AFP.
Wiswananda said one Indonesian hiker died on the mountain and a 30-strong rescue team was escorting the six remaining trekkers down from Lake Segara Anak near the summit.
Helicopters and search teams had been deployed to scour the mountain’s slopes and drop food supplies for those stranded on it.
Hundreds of buildings were destroyed across Lombok, including a health clinic, and Sutopo said more than 220 people suffered serious injuries.
A Malaysian tourist was among the dead, with another six citizens injured, the foreign ministry in Kuala Lumpur has said.
A total of 5,141 people are staying in temporary shelters and in need of clean water, according to officials.
The 3,726 metre-tall (12,224 feet) Rinjani is the second-highest volcano in Indonesia and a favourite among sightseers.
Its hiking trails were closed following the quake due to fear of further landslides.
The epicentre of the earthquake was 50 km (30 miles) northeast of Mataram, far from the main tourist spots on the south and west of the island.
The initial tremor was followed by two strong secondary quakes and more than 100 aftershocks.
Indonesia straddles the so-called Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’, where tectonic plates collide and many of the world’s volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur