Indonesia quake levels villages

Thousands still feared trapped under rubble; aid pours in


Tragic: An Indonesian search and rescue team member gestures as bodies of quake victims lie in the rubble of a building in Padang on Saturday. AFP

In most places only bodies were found by rescue teams combing through collapsed buildings for thousands of people still feared trapped beneath the wreckage. The colossal damage that destroyed buildings and roads was hampering the aid effort.

In remoter areas outside Padang the full scale of the disaster was only starting to become clear, with TV footage showing villages obliterated by landslides, and survivors drinking coconut water after their drinking sources were contaminated.

“We have not received a thing. We need food, clothes, blankets, milk. It seems like the government has forgotten about us,” said Siti Armaini, sitting outside her collapsed home in Pariaman, about 40 km north of Padang and nearer to the quake’s epicentre.

In Padang, eight people were believed to be trapped in the ruins of the Dutch-colonial era Ambacang Hotel, once a prominent landmark in this university town of 900,000 famous across Indonesia for its spicy cuisine and buildings with dramatic curved roofs, influenced by the ethnic Minang group.

International rescue teams, including sniffer dogs from Japan and an orange-clad Swiss team, were helping in the effort.

“We think there are eight people alive in there. One sent an SMS to a relative in a village, who got the text at 3 pm yesterday (Friday),” said Arkamelvi Karmani, an Indonesian army officer involved in the rescue operation at the site of the hotel.

The message called for help and implored rescuers: “Be careful that the excavator doesn’t cause the building to collapse on us.”

Those trapped were believed to be on the 6th floor. Rescuers were building a tunnel into the rubble to try to reach them.

“We think there are 40 bodies left in the hotel, Karmani said. A seminar organised by an insurance company was taking place there when the 7.6 magnitude quake hit on Wednesday.

Aid effort

The international aid effort was cranking up on Saturday and an Australian naval vessel set sail for Sumatra equipped with a mobile 40-bed hospital with surgical facilities, and Sea King helicopters, the country’s defence ministry said.

Testos, an Indonesian Red Cross worker at an aid station in central Padang, said they now had around half what was needed.

“We also need drinking water and clothes because many peoples clothes were burnt in fires,” he said. “We also need medicines to stop infection.”

Toll

The UN estimated that more than 1,000 had been killed in and around Padang. Indonesia’s disaster management agency put the toll of confirmed dead and missing so far at 806.

Rescue teams, many wearing masks to cover the stench of bodies as they worked in the tropical heat, were fanning out from Padang to some of the worst-hit surrounding areas.
On the route to Pariaman devastation became steadily worse.

Roofs of collapsed houses are now flush to the ground, while families shelter in makeshift tents made of blankets next to the road, which has giant cracks in places.

Schools and mosques in this staunchly Muslim area have also collapsed and girls wearing head scarves joined other villagers holding out donation buckets to passing cars.

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