Chance of more survivors from Indonesia quake dims

Sat Oct 3, 2009 1:54pm EDT

By Razak Ahmad and Sunanda Creagh

PADANG, Indonesia (Reuters) – Rescue teams in the Indonesian city of Padang combed rubble through the night in a desperate bid to find more survivors of Wednesday’s earthquake, but increasingly were retrieving only bodies.

On Saturday, rescuers pushed deeper into earthquake-hit Sumatra, finding entire villages obliterated by landslides, and homeless survivors desperate for food, water and shelter.

In Padang, a university town of 900,000, rescuers were still picking through collapsed buildings to look for perhaps thousands of people still buried beneath the rubble. The massive damage to buildings and roads was hampering the aid effort.

In remoter areas, the scale of the disaster was only starting to become clear, with entire villages wiped out and survivors drinking coconut water after their drinking sources were contaminated.

“I am the only one left,” said Zulfahmi, 39. “My child, my wife, my mother-in-law, they are all gone. They are under the earth now.”

He was being visited by 36 family members when the quake triggered a landslide in his village of Kapalo Koto near Pariaman, about 40 km (25 miles) north of Padang.

Indonesia’s disaster management agency put the toll of confirmed dead and missing at 809, and the United Nations said more than 1,000 had been killed in and around Padang.

Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari was quoted by the news website detik.com as saying the death toll would rise but probably remain below 4,000.

In another rural area, a resident said it was too late for aid.

“Don’t bother trying to bring aid up there,” said Afiwardi, who pointed past a landslide that cut off a road. “Everyone is dead.”

DIGGING WITH HOES

Some villagers were using simple wooden hoes in what appeared to be futile attempts to reach bodies under the earth.

The mayor of the district of Padang Pariaman, Muslim Kasim, said heavy digging machinery was starting to reach some areas, but that survivors desperately needed tents and blankets.

“We are devastated. Eighty percent of houses have caved in, roads are split and cracked,” he said by telephone.

He said landslides had hit four hamlets, burying 350 people.

Even three days after the quake, of magnitude 7.6, many areas had seen no aid.

“We have not received a thing. We need food, clothes, blankets, milk,” said Siti Armaini outside her collapsed home in Pariaman. “It seems like the government has forgotten about us.”

Asked about the rescue efforts in Pariaman, Vice President Jusuf Kalla said bluntly it was now about retrieving bodies.

“We can be sure that they are dead. So now we are waiting for burials,” he said in footage shown on Metro TV.

Later he said that Indonesia most needed foreign help in the form of funds and reconstruction now, rather than rescuers.

In Padang, hopes were fading of finding survivors in the ruins of the Dutch-colonial era Ambacang Hotel, a landmark in a town famous across Indonesia for its spicy cuisine and dramatic curved roofs.

A person believed to be trapped in the building, where an insurance company was holding a seminar, sent a phone text message on Friday to a relative saying that eight people were still alive in the ruins.

Rescuers including a Swiss team and sniffer dogs from Japan were cutting through layers of concrete, but by late on Saturday afternoon had managed to retrieve only one more body.

“Yesterday we could hear voices of survivors but today we didn’t hear any,” said Asmar, a soldier involved in the rescue.

The teams said they would work though the night.

(Additional reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu in Jakarta; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

[original]

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