Fire in Minneapolis leaves 250 homeless on Christmas Day

By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – Fire swept a hotel apartment building that provides transitional housing for the poor in downtown Minneapolis early on Wednesday, leaving about 250 people homeless on Christmas morning, city officials said.

No deaths or serious injuries were reported in the four-alarm blaze. Three residents with minor injuries were taken to a hospital for evaluation, and several others were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation, officials said.

The fire erupted before dawn on the second floor of the three-story Francis Drake Hotel before spreading to the third floor and attic area of the brick building, city Fire Chief John Fruetel told reporters outside the complex.

The cause was unknown, Fruetel said, adding that he expected it would take fire crews until Thursday to fully extinguish the blaze.

Television news footage showed flames leaping through the roof amid thick smoke as firefighters poured streams of water onto the burning structure.

“I would estimate that the building is going to be a total loss,” assistant fire chief Bryan Tyner told Minnesota Public Radio News.

With temperatures hovering just above freezing, the city immediately brought in transit buses to provide emergency shelter and warmth for displaced residents, Mayor Jacob Frey told a news briefing, adding that municipal agencies were working with the American Red Cross and other authorities to provide food, longer-term shelter, clothing and other needs for the evacuees.

“These are people’s lives, this is their home. They’re concerned about everything from a wallet or a phone so they can get in touch with a loved one on Christmas, to where are their babies going to get formula,” Frey said, choking up with emotion.

The Francis Drake, which opened in 1926 as a luxury hotel later converted to residential units, provides overflow shelter space for homeless families, as well as temporary lodging for individuals who lack permanent housing in Minnesota’s largest city, municipal and county officials said.

Drake Hotel resident Jason Vandenboom said he was awakened by his wife when fire alarms sounded and he ventured out of their unit to see “a guy coming down the hallway, just pounding on the doors, saying, ‘There’s a fire, we gotta get out of here.'”

Gazing out to another wing of the building, “I saw flames shooting at least about 10, 15 feet (3, 4.5 meters) up,” he told CBS affiliate WCCO-TV. Vandenboom said he then ran back to his room and told his wife, “‘Yeah, we gotta go now.’ … It was bad.”

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Culver City, Calif.; Editing by Leslie Adler and Sandra Maler)

U.S. Supreme Court leaves in place ruling barring prosecution of homeless

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a bid by Boise to overturn a lower court’s ruling that prohibited authorities in the Idaho city from prosecuting homeless people for staying outside if a bed at an emergency shelter is not available.

The justices left in place a ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that fining or jailing homeless people for sleeping in public or unauthorized places violates the U.S. Constitution’s bar on cruel and unusual punishment, a decision the city said threatens public health and safety.

The case centered on two Boise ordinances that prohibit camping or “disorderly conduct” by lodging or sleeping in public. The city said it needed to enforce the ordinances to prevent the formation of encampments that can lead to unsanitary conditions and crimes such as drug dealing and gang activity, and to keep public spaces accessible for residents, visitors and wildlife.

The dispute began when six people – Robert Martin, Robert Anderson, Lawrence Lee Smith, Basil Humphrey, Janet Bell and Pamela Hawkes, all current or former homeless Boise residents – sued the city in 2009, arguing that the laws violated their constitutional rights.

They had each been prosecuted under the ordinances and fined between $25 and $75. Five were sentenced to time served, while Hawkes twice served one day in jail.

The 9th Circuit last year ruled that the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibits punishing homeless individuals if there are more of them than available shelter beds. The ruling allowed the plaintiffs to seek an injunction against enforcement of the city’s ordinances.

“As long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter,” the appeals court said.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

New Jersey mayor sues New York City over moving homeless with ‘offer they can’t refuse’

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s administration has sued New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, accusing the fellow Democrat of dumping his city’s population of homeless people on New Jersey’s biggest city.

The lawsuit naming the city of New York, its mayor and his homelessness czar, Steven Banks, accuses the de Blasio administration’s Special One-Time Assistance, or SOTA, program of using strong-arm tactics to send people across the Hudson River to find a place to live.

“This case concerns an unlawful program of ‘coerced’ migration,” Newark lawyers say in court documents filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey on Monday.

New York City officials are accused of “forcing SOTA recipients to accept the proverbial ‘offer they can’t refuse,'” the documents said, explaining that the phrase from the 1972 American Mafia film “The Godfather” is “really a command, ‘Do what we say or else.'”

The lawsuit accuses New York of violating federal commerce laws. It cites several former New York shelter residents who were hustled through tours of New Jersey apartments and pressured to quickly commit to one, with the SOTA Program paying landlords a full year’s rent up front.

“She was told by case managers in her shelter that she should look in New Jersey, in the cities of Newark or Paterson, because New York landlords were leery of the SOTA program and because she would find something quicker in New Jersey,” Newark’s lawyers said in court filings.

The de Blasio administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Baraka, Newark’s mayor since 2014 and the son of poet and African-American activist Amiri Baraka, and de Blasio, a former Democratic presidential candidate who touts himself as a progressive, appeared together in Newark last year to announce a tenant initiative aimed at keeping people in their homes, in part by ending illegal evictions. The New Jersey program was modeled after one in New York City and both mayors praised one another for pursuing the initiatives.

The vast majority of New Yorkers experiencing homelessness – over 63,000 homeless men, women and children – spend the night instead within the city’s shelter system where they remain unseen, according to The Bowery Mission nonprofit group. In a city of 8.5 million people, nearly one in every 121 New Yorkers is currently homeless.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Chicago’s cold blast spells concern for the city’s homeless

Chicago’s cold blast spells concern for the city’s homeless
By Brendan O’Brien

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Homeless advocates in Chicago were closely monitoring wind chill temperatures on Tuesday as an early season blast of arctic air swept across the eastern two-thirds of the United States.

The city of Chicago, where 86,000 homeless people live, opened its six warming shelters over the last few days as unseasonably cold temperatures dipped into the teens with wind chills into the single digits during the morning, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

“It’s incredibly concerning that we are experiencing this level of cold this early in the season,” said Doug Schenkelberg, director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

The NWS said the Chicago metro area along with many major cities in the Midwest and East Coast and across the South would experience numerous record lows for a Nov. 12 or 13, with temperatures averaging 20 to 30 degrees below normal.

“It’s significantly earlier than we normally would see a change in the jet stream,” said Ed Shimon, a NWS meteorologist. “We actually have a cold front already blasting down to Florida and off the Gulf Coast … so records are being broken all over the place.”

The bitter cold prompted Cornerstone Community Outreach, on Chicago’s North Side, to place cots in its dining room to accommodate the influx of homeless people a month earlier than it usually does each winter.

“We have seen an uptick of people coming,” said Sandra Ramsey, executive director of Cornerstone Community Outreach. “From the looks of it, it spells out that we will have a long winter.”

Ramsey said she was worried about the homeless people who suffer from mental illness and refuse to go inside, opting to live under viaducts and in alleyways even amid deadly cold.

“It takes time and relationships to get these people … to come in on terribly cold nights,” Ramsey said. “But then they go back out.”

About 16,000 people sleep each night on the Chicago streets and shelters, Schenkelberg said. He added that the key to dealing with homelessness in extreme weather conditions ultimately is finding permanent supportive housing for the homeless.

“It’s never an easy time to be homeless regardless of the weather and when you add extreme weather like this into the mix, it makes life that much more difficult for people experiencing it,” he said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Frank McGurty and Tom Brown)

Living on the edge in the homeless encampments of Los Angeles

Living on the edge in the homeless encampments of Los Angeles
By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – After years on the street, Kimberly Decoursey spends her nights at a Los Angeles temporary housing site called the Hollywood Studio Club. But by day, she can still be found at a highway off-ramp with her homeless fiance and a less rule-bound street community.

Decoursey, 37, who grew up in foster homes, considers the friends who have shared her struggles on the streets of Los Angeles to be her family. She wants them to enjoy what she has now: a bed, regular meals and a shower.

“A lot of them would give their right arm to be inside,” Decoursey said of her comrades inhabiting grimy tents pitched on dirt patches in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles.

Yet only a fraction of the estimated 36,000 homeless in Los Angeles have been housed three years after voters in November 2016 approved a ballot measure that raised $1.2 billion to build housing for street denizens and poor people.

The sheer cost of building permanent homes with social services in one of the priciest real estate markets in the United States is one of the biggest obstacles. There is also opposition from homeowner groups to building such homes in their neighborhoods.

Some homeless people have their own apprehensions about living among strangers and having to follow rules in shelters.

The first project funded by the ballot measure to provide permanent homes with on-site social services is scheduled to open only by the end of the year, officials said.

The problem is growing. Homelessness spiked by 16 percent in January 2019 compared with the previous year, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority said.

The homeless have set up tents on sidewalks and in neglected corners of nearly every section of the nation’s second-largest city, from wealthy Bel-Air to working-class San Pedro.

Republican President Donald Trump on a visit to California in September said people living on the streets have ruined the “prestige” of Los Angeles and San Francisco and suggested the possibility of federal intervention. That same month, the Democratic-run Los Angeles government petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to ask for legal power to forcibly sweep homeless encampments off the streets.


It costs $531,000 per unit to build permanent homes for the homeless under Proposition HHH, the $1.2 billion bond measure approved by voters three years ago, the Los Angeles Controller’s Office said in a report released in October.

High real estate prices – the median value of a home in greater Los Angeles is currently around $650,000 – were only partly to blame, Controller Ron Galperin said in a telephone interview. The biggest financial drains were “soft costs” such as architectural design fees, permitting and inspections.

“These days, to get almost anything built in Los Angeles you need a small army of lawyers and lobbyists,” Galperin said.

The city’s plan to put homeless centers across the metropolitan area sparked a backlash from some residents concerned it could depress real estate values. In the wealthy, beachside neighborhood of Venice, where the median home price approaches $2 million, some residents have gone to court to oppose a homeless center.

On-site facilities to assist the homeless – medical clinics and office space for case managers and social workers – are another cost-driver, city officials say. Those services average $7,000 per unit per year, to be borne by Los Angeles County government.

People coming off the streets have a lot of needs, homeless advocates say.

Like Decoursey, 15 percent of homeless adults were once in foster care, according to the Homeless Services Authority.

A report released this month by the California Policy Lab in Los Angeles, which crunched survey data from 64,000 single adult homeless people across the country, found half of them reported suffering from some combination of physical, mental and substance abuse conditions.

In Los Angeles County, the mortality rate among homeless people has increased for the last five years, with more than 1,000 dying in 2018 from such causes as heart disease and overdosing on drugs, according to the county Department of Public Health.

While shelters have traditionally forbidden drug and alcohol use, officials have begun dropping sobriety requirements for supportive housing, under a model called “housing first” that has been used in Canada and other parts of the United States.

Los Angeles had already built some permanent housing units with support services even before the infusion of $1.2 billion from Proposition HHH. They fill up quickly and generate long waiting lists, city officials said.


Kenny Miles Bard, 61, who was living in his sedan parked on a hilly street in Hollywood, said he did not like the rules or his companions at a shelter he once tried.

“Out here you’re more in control of your own destiny, so to speak, and if there are people you don’t want to be around, you don’t have to be around them,” he said. “You go somewhere else.”

Such reluctance to stay at a shelter is shared by a portion of the homeless population, said Benjamin Henwood, an associate professor of social work at the University of Southern California.

“If the choice is to go into a shelter, they might say ‘no thank you’ because a shelter can be a place where you can get robbed or assaulted or woken up at certain times or have to go to bed at certain times,” he said. “If you actually offer them a private space of their own, the majority of people will take you up on that offer.”

One in seven homeless people in Los Angeles, however, has a pet and may be reluctant to part with it, Henwood said.

One non-profit in Los Angeles, People Assisting the Homeless, is making the shelters it operates more welcoming by allowing pets for emotional support and stepping up security so residents’ possessions are not stolen, said its associate director, Jesus Torres.

At the Hollywood tent encampment, Decoursey, who said she previously battled a cocaine addiction and has been homeless on and off for much of her adult life, mentioned a “street dad” and other transients she considers brothers, sisters, nephews and cousins.

“The circumstances out here are dangerous,” Decoursey said as she scanned her longtime encampment. “The sooner we all can be housed, the better.”

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Dan Grebler)

India floods kill more than 270, displace one million

FILE PHOTO: Rescuers remove debris as they search for victims of a landslide caused by torrential monsoon rains in Meppadi in Wayanad district in the southern Indian state of Kerala, India, August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

By Gopakumar Warrier and Rajendra Jadhav

BENGALURU/MUMBAI (Reuters) – Floods and landslides have killed more than 270 people in India this month, displaced one million and inundated thousands of homes across six states, authorities said on Wednesday after two weeks of heavy monsoon rains.

The rains from June to September are a lifeline for rural India, delivering some 70% of the country’s rainfall, but they also cause death and destruction each year.

The southern states of Kerala and Karnataka, and Maharashtra and Gujarat in the west, were among the hardest hit by floods that washed away thousands of hectares of summer-sown crops and damaged roads and rail lines.

At least 95 people were killed and more than 50 are missing in Kerala, where heavy rainfall triggered dozens of landslides last week and trapped more than 100 people.

About 190,000 people are still living in relief camps in the state, said Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, but he added some people are returning home as floodwaters recede.

In neighboring Karnataka, home to the technology hub Bengaluru, 54 people died and 15 are missing after rivers burst their banks when authorities released water from dams.

Nearly 700,000 people have been evacuated in the state.

Heavy rainfall is expected in parts of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat, as well as the central state of Madhya Pradesh, in the next two days, weather officials said.

In Maharashtra, which includes the financial capital Mumbai, 48 people died but floodwaters are receding, said a state official.

“We are now trying to restore electricity and drinking water supplies,” he said.

In Madhya Pradesh, the biggest producer of soybeans, heavy rains killed 32 people and damaged crops, authorities said.

In Gujarat, 31 people died in rain-related incidents, while landslides killed nearly a dozen people in the northern hilly state of Uttarakhand.

(Reporting by Gopakumar Warrier and Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Euan Rocha and Darren Schuettler)

And then there was light: Cardinal breaks law to restore power for homeless

FILE PHOTO: Konrad Krajewski, seen in this November 15, 2013 photo at centre behind Pope Francis, has drawn the ire of Italy's anti-immigrant interior minister by climbing down a manhole and breaking the law to restore electricity to hundreds of homeless people living in an occupied building. He is now a cardinal and runs the Vatican office that distributes the pope's charity funds. The picture was taken when he was an archbishop, at the Vatican. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/File Photo

By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) – A close aide to Pope Francis has drawn the ire of Italy’s anti-immigrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini by climbing down a manhole to restore electricity to hundreds of homeless people living in an occupied building.

Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, 55, whose job is to distribute the pope’s charity funds, went to the disused state-owned building near a Rome cathedral on Saturday night and broke a police seal to re-connect electrical circuit breakers.

To some, he was a hero of sorts by Monday morning as the news went viral. Rome’s left-leaning La Repubblica newspaper ran a banner headline calling him “The Pope’s Robin Hood” and praising him for doing the right thing under the circumstances.

“What can I say? It was a particularly desperate situation. I repeat: I assume all the responsibility. If a fine arrives, I’ll pay it,” Krajewski said in an interview in Corriere della Sera newspaper on Monday.

The building has been occupied since 2013 by Italians who had lost their homes and migrants. It houses some 450 people, including about 100 children.

It had been without power since May 6 because some 300,000 euro in electricity bills had not been paid.

“Defending illegality is never a good sign,” Salvini, who has often clashed with the pope on migration and other social issues, told reporters on Monday.

“There are many Italians and even legal immigrants who pay their bills, even if with difficulty. People can do what they please but as interior minister, I guarantee the rules.”

Krajewski, who rides around Rome on a bicycle, said he would pay the building’s electricity bills from now on but that for him, the issue went beyond money.

“There are children there. The first thing to ask is ‘why are they there? What is the reason? How is it possible that families are in such a situation” he told Corriere.

Krajewski, a Pole, was already a minor celebrity in Rome. Since the pope named him to the Vatican charity job in 2013, he became known for dressing down into simple layman’s clothes at night and bringing food the city’s homeless in a white van.

He was also responsible for opening shelters near the Vatican were the homeless can wash, get haircuts, and receive medical care.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Survivors find reasons to be thankful after deadly California fire

After their home in Paradise was destroyed by the Camp Fire, Orin and Sonya Butts shop for new clothing for their son, Landyn, 3, in Chico, California, U.S., November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Terray Sylvester

CHICO, Calif. (Reuters) – Most years, Kelly Doty marked Thanksgiving by delivering scores of meals to low-income families with children in the tight-knit Northern California mountain community of Paradise.

But after the Camp Fire all but incinerated the town of nearly 27,000 residents on Nov. 8, killing at least 77 people and leaving almost 1,000 missing, the family resources center where Doty worked as a director had to scrap the annual food drive.

After their home in Paradise was destroyed by the Camp Fire, Orin Butts shops for new household items with his wife, Sonya, their kids, Abby, 4, and Landyn, 3, and Sonya's grandmother, Yvonne Tranah, in Chico, California, U.S., November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

After their home in Paradise was destroyed by the Camp Fire, Orin Butts shops for new household items with his wife, Sonya, their kids, Abby, 4, and Landyn, 3, and Sonya’s grandmother, Yvonne Tranah, in Chico, California, U.S., November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

“All the families are displaced. There’s no houses to deliver boxes to,” Doty, 37, said by telephone from Battle Ground, Washington, where she and her two sons and boyfriend are staying with relatives.

She does not know the whereabouts of the 80 meals that staff at the Paradise Ridge Family Resource Center collected ahead of the holiday, or even if they survived the blaze.

Her house was reduced to rubble by the fire, as were the homes of the center’s three other employees.

Still, Doty said she had plenty to be thankful for. Her family survived and managed to escape with belongings such as family photos and children’s clothing. Many of her neighbors fled with only the clothes on their backs.

“I feel like I still have a lot,” Doty said.

In a twist, she said they were the ones receiving charity this year. During a visit to a Battle Ground pizza restaurant last week, the owner discovered they were Camp Fire evacuees and gave them a $100 gift card and $50 bottle of wine.

The band playing that night passed a tip jar around the room on their behalf, too. “It was just incredible, these people didn’t know us and they were donating money to us,” Doty said.


For years in Chico, a few miles (km) west of Paradise, a 59-year-old homeless woman named “Mama” Rose Adams has served a Thanksgiving meal for homeless people in a park. She and her helpers buy some of the food from money they raise recycling, while the rest is donated by friends and family.

On Sunday, she was serving 17 roasted turkeys at an event advertised on social media and flyers around town. She was encouraging evacuees from the wildfire to attend since they are now homeless too.

“I’m sure a lot of them are uncomfortable now,” Adams said at the park where a few dozen people sat at picnic tables to eat. “A lot of them don’t have places to cook or eat.”

Among the displaced in Chico was Sonya Butts, her twin sister, Tonya Boyd, and their families. They had been among those hoping for a Thanksgiving meal parcel from Doty’s center.

The Camp Fire may have taken her home, her job and her town, Butts said, but it left her with the things that matter most to her.

“Being alive, knowing my husband and my kids got out alive, that’s all I ever wanted,” Butts, 28, said by phone from a Red Cross evacuation shelter at Bidwell Junior High School.

Butts, her sister and their families are lucky to be alive after a harrowing escape. They fled in a four-car caravan as the wildfire all but surrounded them, eventually reaching Chico where they watched their hometown burn in the hills behind them.

Still, Butts counts her blessings.

“Everything else can be replaced,” she said. “My family cannot.”

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Venezuelan immigrants survive on the streets in Brazil

Venezuelan people sit on their tent and sleep on cardboards during the night at the entrance of packages transport shop in front of the interstate Bus Station in Boa Vista, Roraima state, Brazil August 25, 2018. Picture taken August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

By Nacho Doce

BOA VISTA, Brazil (Reuters) – Many Venezuelans thought they were leaving a collapsing economy for a land of milk and honey just next door.

But most of those fleeing the turmoil in Venezuela by walking into Brazil at an Amazon border crossing have found themselves surviving on the streets and sleeping in tents, hammocks or on pieces of cardboard.

Their drama is part of a deepening regional humanitarian crisis set off by the exodus of tens of thousands of Venezuelans who are voting with their feet and abandoning their country, mainly into neighboring Colombia, and also Ecuador and Peru.

Venezuelan people rest on hammocks during the night in a spare parts shop for cars and motorbikes, near the interstate Bus Station in Boa Vista, Roraima state, Brazil August 24, 2018. Picture taken August 24, 2018. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Venezuelan people rest on hammocks during the night in a spare parts shop for cars and motorbikes, near the interstate Bus Station in Boa Vista, Roraima state, Brazil August 24, 2018. Picture taken August 24, 2018. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

The city of Boa Vista, capital of the Brazilian border state of Roraima, has received 35,000 Venezuelan immigrants in the past two years, swelling its population by more than 10 percent. Today, some 3,000 are homeless, according to the mayor’s office.

Near the city bus terminal, Venezuelans sleep on grassy highway medians and in shopping areas. Some are lucky enough to spend the night in tents handed out by refugee agencies.

Others hang hammocks outside car body shops and auto-parts distributors whose Brazilian owners allow them to spend the night under a covered area, as long as they are gone in the morning.

This generosity by local shop owners contrasts with an outbreak of xenophobic attacks on Aug. 18 against Venezuelan immigrants at the border town of Pacaraima, ignited after a Brazilian was allegedly robbed and stabbed by Venezuelans in his home.

“Some Brazilians treat us badly, but not all of them,” said Anyi Gomez, a pregnant 19-year-old who came to Brazil with her mother and survives by using a squeegee to clean car windshields for change at traffic lights.

The prenatal care she is getting at a public hospital in Brazil made it worth leaving Venezuela where her baby could have died for lack of food and medicine, she said.

Venezuelan people sleep on the grass in front of interstate Bus Station in Boa Vista, Roraima state, Brazil August 23, 2018. Picture taken Auguist 23, 2018. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Venezuelan people sleep on the grass in front of interstate Bus Station in Boa Vista, Roraima state, Brazil August 23, 2018. Picture taken Auguist 23, 2018. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

On Tuesday, Brazilian President Michel Temer said the Armed Forces were being sent to Roraima for at least two weeks to help keep order and ensure the safety of immigrants. Temer blamed Venezuela’s authoritarian government for causing a regional crisis that requires a collective response.

Local churches provide meals or hand out bread and juice to the homeless Venezuelans.

“We have food, but no roof. And there is no work,” said Luis Daniel, from Caracas. “I came to get a job to take back things for my children who are going hungry in Venezuela. But all I have now is exhaustion from sleeping outdoors.”

(Reporting by Nacho Doce; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Brad Brooks and Susan Thomas)

As death toll on Indonesia’s Lombok tops 100, thousands wait for aid

A woman carries valuable goods from the ruins of her house at Kayangan district after earthquake hit on Sunday in North Lombok, Indonesia, August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Beawihar

By Kanupriya Kapoor

KAYANGAN, Indonesia (Reuters) – The death toll from a powerful earthquake that hit Indonesia’s tourist island of Lombok topped 100 on Tuesday as rescuers found victims under wrecked buildings, while thousands left homeless in the worst-affected areas waited for aid to arrive.

Health workers treat earthquake victims in the courtyard of Tanjung Hospital, North Lombok, Indonesia August 7, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Zabur Karuru/ via REUTERS

Health workers treat earthquake victims in the courtyard of Tanjung Hospital, North Lombok, Indonesia August 7, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Zabur Karuru/ via REUTERS

A woman was pulled alive from the rubble of a collapsed grocery store in the north, near the epicenter of Sunday’s 6.9 magnitude quake, the second tremor to rock the tropical island in a week.

That was a rare piece of good news as hopes of finding more survivors faded and a humanitarian crisis loomed for thousands left homeless by the disaster in the rural area and in desperate need of clean water, food, medicine, and shelter.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesman of Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) put the toll at 105, including two on the neighboring island of Bali to the west, where the quake was also felt – and the figure was expected to rise.

Lombok had already been hit by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake on July 29 that killed 17 people and briefly stranded several hundred trekkers on the slopes of a volcano.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and is regularly hit by earthquakes. In 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

People walk near the ruins of a shop after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok island, Indonesia, August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

People walk near the ruins of a shop after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok island, Indonesia, August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta


Few buildings were left standing in Kayangan on the island’s northern end, where residents told Reuters that as many as 40 died.

Some villagers used sledgehammers and ropes to start clearing the rubble of broken homes, but others, traumatized by continued aftershocks, were too afraid to venture far from tents and tarpaulins set up in open spaces.

There has been little government relief for the area, where the greatest need is for water and food, as underground water sources have been blocked by the quake and shops destroyed or abandoned.

About 75 percent of the north has been without electricity since Sunday, officials said, and some communities were hard to reach because bridges were damaged and trees, rocks, and sand lay across roads cracked wide open in places by the tremor.

“Thousands of people moved to scattered locations,” Sutopo told a news conference in Jakarta.

“People have moved to the hillsides where they feel safer. It’s difficult for help to reach them. We advise people to come down and move closer to the camps.”

Rescuers and policemen talk on top of a collapsed mosque as they try to find survivors after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok Island, Indonesia, August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Rescuers and policemen talk on top of a collapsed mosque as they try to find survivors after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok Island, Indonesia, August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Aid agency Oxfam said it was providing clean drinking water and tarpaulin shelters to 5,000 survivors, but the need was much greater, with more than 20,000 estimated to have been displaced.

“Thousands … are under open skies in need of drinking water, food, medical supplies, and clothes,” it said in a statement. “Clean drinking water is scarce due to the extremely dry weather.”

Villagers in Pemenang on Lombok’s northwestern shoulder heard cries for help emerging from the mangled concrete of a collapsed minimart on Tuesday and alerted rescuers. Four hours later they pulled out alive Nadia Revanale, 23.

“First we used our hands to clear the debris, then hammers, chisels, and machines,” Marcos Eric, a volunteer, told Reuters. “It took many hours but we’re thankful it worked and this person was found alive.”

Rescuers heard a weak voice coming from under the wreckage of a nearby two-story mosque, where four people were believed to have been trapped when the building pancaked.

“We are looking for access. We have a machine that can drill or cut through concrete, so we may use that. We are waiting for heavier equipment,” Teddy Aditya, an official of the Indonesian Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas), told Reuters.

People push their motorcycle through the collapsed ruins of a mosque after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok island, Indonesia, August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

People push their motorcycle through the collapsed ruins of a mosque after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok island, Indonesia, August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta


Thousands of tourists have left Lombok since Sunday evening, fearing further earthquakes, some on extra flights added by airlines and some on ferries to Bali.

Officials said about 4,600 foreign and domestic tourists had been evacuated from the three Gili islands off the northwest coast of Lombok, where two people died and fears of a tsunami spread soon after the quake.

Saffron Amis, a British student on Gili Trawangan – the largest of the islands fringed by white beaches and surrounded by turquoise sea – said at least 200 people were stranded there with more flowing in from the other two, Gili Air and Gili Meno.

“We still have no wi-fi and very little power. Gili Air has run out of food and water so they have come to us,” she told Reuters in a text message, adding later that she had been taken by boat to the main island en route to Bali.

(Additional reporting by Angie Teo and by Agustinus Beo Da Costa,; Fransiska Nangoy and Fanny Potkin in JAKARTA; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)