Padang, Indonesia (AFP) Oct 5, 2009
Indonesia called off the search for survivors in the quake-hit city of Padang on Monday as officials sought to contain the risk of disease caused by thousands of trapped bodies.
Local officials and foreign specialists who rushed to Indonesia's Sumatra island after Wednesday's devastating 7.6-magnitude earthquake said the aid effort had switched to relief and rebuilding.
The United Nations has said at least 1,100 people were killed in the disaster, but estimates of the final toll range up to 5,000. The official toll stood at 650 dead and 672 missing, according to the health ministry.
"The effort to find survivors in Padang was stopped last night but they are still going on outside Padang," Indonesian disaster management agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono told AFP.
Swiss Rescue spokeswoman Michele Mercier said the group's 115-strong team was packing up and preparing to go home.
"Nobody from the teams we know found a survivor, unfortunately. We recovered six bodies," she said.
Foreign aid and emergency teams continued to pour into Padang, bringing tonnes of medical supplies, drinking water and food for the tens of thousands of people made homeless by the quake.
Rubble and ruins in the city of one million people on Sumatra's west coast was being scoured for hundreds of bodies believed to be interred in the wreckage.
Two heavy excavators were trying to reach scores of bodies believed buried under the wreckage of the landmark Ambacang Hotel, which resembled a stack of pancakes. One body was pulled from the hotel's rubble early in the morning.
"We're still looking for the exact location where there are many bodies trapped," senior Indonesian rescue worker Retno Budiharjo said.
West Sumatra provincial Governor Gamawan Fauzi said: "This is the fifth day, there'll be no survivors under the rubble... unless there's a miracle."
Health officials said they were racing against time to prevent outbreaks of disease caused by decomposing bodies and a lack of clean water.
"There is a concern that dirty water supplies can spread skin disease and other kinds of diseases. Flies on dead bodies can also spread bacteria to people," Health Ministry crisis centre head Rustam Pakaya said.
The government said it had set aside 6.0 trillion rupiah (624 million dollars) for reconstruction in Padang, where most buildings in the city centre have been damaged or completely destroyed, including hospitals and schools.
There were signs Monday that the city was taking its first tentative steps on the long path to recovery. Restaurants were reopening and teachers said they were trying to resume classes.
"I have been ordered by the governor to open the school again today, but only 60 students came out of 800," Padang teacher Karmila Suryani said.
Outside the city, aid was trickling into isolated hillside villages that were flattened in the quake or destroyed by giant landslides.
Helicopters were ferrying aid to remote communities but many survivors in rural areas were angry that they had received no aid at all.
"This is a test from God and we accept it, but we're angry and sad that help hasn't come," said 50-year-old farmer's wife Simur, from the razed village of Koto Mambang.
"In our culture it's embarrassing to beg by the roadside but what choice do we have? We need to feed our children."
Teams from Japan, Germany, Russia and Singapore have set up mobile health clinics outside Padang with dozens of doctors and nurses treating patients.
"Because of unsanitary conditions and lack of clean water or disinfectant, even minor injuries sustained in a disaster can become life-threatening without medical attention," said World Vision, a Christian relief organisation, in a statement.
The quake struck off Sumatra's west coast near Padang, which lies on part of the so-called "Ring of Fire" system of faultlines and volcanoes that make Indonesia one of the most quake-prone countries in the world.
earlier related report
The traumatised people of Padang began piecing their shattered homes and businesses back together on Monday, hoping that painful lessons would be learnt ahead of the far bigger quake that seismologists say is coming.
Excavators and bulldozers are still raking over the concrete and steel mounds that mark the spots where hotels, schools and homes once stood in a vast clean-up operation expected to take months.
Elsewhere, in some neighbourhoods, signs of life are returning. Streets are being swept, debris collected and some businesses reopened.
"I keep feeling the quake shaking my body and I can't stop worrying about it," said 60-year-old Yusnidar, who decided on the weekend to re-open her restaurant which serves Padang's famous Rendang beef.
"I'm sleeping by the door at the moment so that if another quake comes I can rush outside as quickly as possible."
Her eatery, the Ampera Taman in central Padang, is quiet, with only a few people sat at the six tables.
"I am quite lucky because my restaurant building wasn't damaged," she said, gesturing towards the market on the opposite side of the road that is partially collapsed and burnt in places.
Yusnidar, like others here, has heard the predictions by seismologists of the "big quake" that is set to hit Padang, but approaches it with a fatalistic attitude that is typical in this conservative, Muslim-majority town.
"I won't move from this city. I just accept what is written by God," she says.
"The thing that is important is that we have awareness that if a quake happens we should run outside and if there's a tsunami alert then we have to go to the hilly area."
Unfortunately for her and the rest of the 900,000-strong population of Padang, the 7.6-magnitude quake centred off the coast from the port city on Wednesday evening was not the major quake seismologists have predicted.
It occurred underneath the Indo-Australian plate, rather than at the meeting point of the Indo-Australian plate and the Eurasian plate where strain has been building and is expected to be released at some unknown point in the future.
The United Nations has said that at least 1,100 people were killed in the disaster, but estimates of the final toll range up to 5,000.
"This earthquake today is a flea compared to this tiger of a quake that is coming," California Institute of Technology (Caltech) geologist Kerry Sieh told AFP last week.
Back in central Padang, Syamsinar, a 78-year-old mother of four, is selling furniture and cigarettes on the pavement outside her cracked and partially collapsed furniture store.
"Who's going to buy furniture in these conditions?" she told AFP, adding that she had no choice but to stay in Padang.
"I don't have enough money to move away," she said.
Padang native Sribersihwati, 30, said she hoped builders and the local government would recognise the mistakes made in the development of the city, which has boomed in recent years.
"There should be regulations and strong monitoring from the local government regarding the construction of buildings," Sribersihwati told AFP.
"The corruption problem is a concern. Why are there so many tall buildings that didn't bother with strong construction? They built the buildings with low-quality materials," she said.
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Padang, Indonesia (AFP) Oct 2, 2009
Indonesia said Thursday it feared thousands had died in a major earthquake as exhausted rescue workers clawed through mountains of rubble with their bare hands in a race to find survivors. The first rescue flights laden with food, medicine and body bags arrived in the devastated region on Sumatra island as another powerful quake struck further south, causing more injuries and sparking panic. ... read more
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