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Indonesia earthquake rescue efforts intensify amid death toll confusion

Volunteers and rescue personnel have erected more temporary shelters for the tens of thousands left homeless on the island of Lombok.

Rescue efforts have intensified to find people buried in rubble following the earthquake that shook Indonesia’s Lombok island.

The national disaster agency stood by its latest death toll of 131 from Sunday’s quake despite other government agencies including the military reporting much higher figures.

The governor of the province that includes Lombok, the military and the national search and rescue agency issued different death tolls that ranged from 226 to 381.

But disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the information from those sources was incomplete and had not been cross-checked for duplication. He has said several times that the number of deaths will increase.

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Rescue teams continue to search for victims in the collapsed Jamiul Jamaah Mosque (Tatan Syuflana/AP)

An inter-agency meeting will be held Thursday to compare information, Mr Nugroho said.

As the aid effort stepped up, volunteers and rescue personnel erected more temporary shelters for the tens of thousands left homeless on Lombok by the magnitude 7.0 quake.

Water, which has been in short supply due to a prolonged dry spell on the island, as well as food and medical supplies were being distributed from trucks. The military said it sent five planes carrying food, medicine, blankets, field tents and water tankers.

Nearly 1,500 people are in hospital with serious injuries and more than 156,000 have been displaced due to the extensive damage to thousands of homes. Thousands of people have been sleeping in makeshift shelters or out in the open.

At a collapsed mosque in Bangsal district, emergency workers in orange uniforms removed a woman’s body from the ruins on Wednesday morning. A green and yellow dome rested on the pile of rubble, the only part of the structure still intact.

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A man inspects the ruins of houses (Fauzy Chaniago/AP)

Authorities said all the tourists who wanted to be evacuated from three outlying holiday islands due to power blackouts and damage to hotels had left by boat, some 5,000 people in all.

The quake was the second in a week to hit Lombok. A magnitude 6.4 earthquake on July 29 killed 16 people and cracked and weakened many structures, amplifying the damage that occurred in Sunday’s quake.

Like its famous neighbour Bali, Lombok is known for beaches, mountains and a lush interior. Hotels and other buildings in both locations are not allowed to exceed the height of coconut trees.

Indonesia is prone to earthquakes because of its location on the “Ring of Fire”, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.

In December 2004, a massive magnitude 9.1 earthquake off Sumatra triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries.

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