Indonesia prepares for mass burial


A child lies on a mattress inside a house damaged by an earthquake in Padang Pariaman, a coastal town in the Indonesian province of West Sumatra, on Sunday. REUTERS

Rescue teams combing the rubble of Padang said there was little hope of finding more survivors from a disaster that authorities say may have killed 3,000 people.

As relief workers pushed deeper inland from the coastal city, they found entire villages obliterated by landslides and homeless survivors desperate for food, water and shelter.
“I am the only one left,” said Zulfahmi, 39, who was in the village of Kapalo Koto, near Pariaman, about 40 km north of Padang, with 36 family members when Wednesday’s 7.6 magnitude quake struck.

Indonesia’s health minister, Siti Fadillah Supari, said the government estimated the death toll could reach 3,000, adding that disease was becoming a concern, especially in Padang city, where a pervading stench of decomposing bodies hangs over the ruined buildings.

“We are trying to recover people from the debris, dead or alive. We are trying to help survivors to stay alive. We are now focusing on minimising post-quake deaths,” she said.
In Padang, a port city of 900,000 that was once a centre of the spice trade, rescuers picked through collapsed buildings to look for perhaps thousands of people still buried.
“We are doing final checks before we can declare the rescue phase is over. We think it’s the end of the rescue phase,” said British rescue worker Peter Old, of Rapid UK. “There is very little chance of finding people alive.”

A pit had been dug in the Tunggul Hitam public cemetery in Padang for a mass burial of 11 unidentified bodies retrieved from the ruined Ambacang Hotel, a landmark in a town famous across Indonesia for its spicy cuisine and dramatic curved roofs. A huge rescue operation at the hotel involving international teams with sniffer dogs had failed to find anyone alive inside.

Indonesia’s disaster agency said 20,000 buildings had been damaged in the quake, with most government offices destroyed. In a sign of a slow return to normalcy, shops had reopened in some parts of Padang and a Pizzahut restaurant was crowded with guests.

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