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Published: Friday, 10/2/2009

Indonesia quake kills at least 1,100, U.N. says

FROM THE BLADE'S NEWS SERVICES

PADANG, Indonesia - Rescue workers pulled victims, some screaming in pain, from the heavy rubble of buildings felled by a powerful earthquake that a government official said killed at least 777 people.

U.N. officials put the death toll at 1,100 and said it was likely to rise.

The brunt of Wednesday's 7.6-magnitude earthquake, which originated in the sea off Sumatra island, appeared to have been borne by the city of Padang, where a government official said most of the deaths occurred. More than 500 buildings, including hotels, schools, hospitals, and a mall, were destroyed or damaged in the city.

Thousands of people were still believed to be trapped in the rubble, Rustam Pakaya, head of the Health Ministry's crisis center, said.

Teams today resumed a desperate search for people feared trapped under the debris and aid to thousands of survivors started trickling in.

Rescue operations in and around the West Sumatran capital of 900,000 people have been hampered by power blackouts and a lack of heavy equipment to shift fallen masonry.

Australia, South Korea, and Japan were among nations offering help.

In Washington, President Obama, who lived in Indonesia for several years as a child with his mother and sister, said the United States "stands ready to help in this time of need.

"Indonesia's an extraordinary country that's known extraordinary hardship from natural disasters," Mr. Obama said. "I know firsthand that the Indonesian people are strong and resilient and have the spirit to overcome this enormous challenge. As they do, they need to know that America will be their friend and partner."

In Padang, workers rigged up floodlights overnight and brought in a giant excavator to make their way to students trapped in a three-story school that had collapsed. Sixty students had been attending extracurricular lessons when the quake hit, the Jakarta Post reported.

Four students were found alive and six bodies were dug from the rubble.

Dozens remain missing, said Jamil, a volunteer. "It's getting very difficult now to find more victims," he said.

Parents of missing students stayed up all night, waiting for signs of life.

"My daughter's face keeps appearing in my eyes … my mind. I cannot sleep, I'm waiting here to see her again," a woman who identified herself only as Imelda said, tears rolling down her face. She said her daughter Yolanda, 12, was in the school for science lessons.

"She is a good daughter and very smart. I really love her. Please, God help her," she said.

Padang has at times fallen into chaos: Fuel is in short supply, some shops are running out of food, and many residents are scrambling to find clean water.

Landslides have severed many roads in the region.

Conditions in Pariaman, nearer the quake's epicenter, may be in even worse shape from the reports of flattened buildings. Conditions in more remote areas were unknown.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono flew to the stricken region yesterday after arriving back from the G-20 meeting and stayed overnight to help oversee the rescue. He pledged to do "everything we can" to help the victims.

"Let's not underestimate [the disaster]. Let's be prepared for the worst," Mr. Yudhoyono said.

An Indonesian government official said that at least 777 people are confirmed to have died in the quake, with about 300 seriously injured.

At the United Nations, humanitarian chief John Holmes said the latest figures "suggest the death toll has risen already to 1,100" and likely would go higher given the number of injured and those believed trapped in collapsed buildings.

Mr. Holmes' office said a team of people from various U.N. agencies is in the affected area of West Sumatra to assess damage and emergency relief needs.

"Oh God, help me! help me!" Friska Yuniwati, a 30-year-old woman, screamed in pain, as she was carried to an ambulance in Padang. She had been pulled out minutes earlier from the rubble of a house, her face bruised and her eyes shut.

John Lee, a Singaporean guest at the flattened Maryani hotel, was pulled free by rescue workers who heard his cries for help. He had been trapped for 25 hours with a broken leg.

Padang's state-run Djamil Hospital was overwhelmed by the influx of victims and families. Dozens of injured people were being treated under tents outside the hospital, which was itself damaged.

UNICEF said tens of thousands of people had been made homeless, one third of them children.

"The needs of thousands of children are vast and urgent. They must have access to clean water, shelter," Angela Kearney, the U.N. body's Indonesian chief, said.

President Yudhoyono ordered the military to deploy emergency response teams from Jakarta, West Sumatra, and North Sumatra provinces. He said the military will provide earth-moving equipment to clear the rubble.

SurfAid, a New Zealand-based medical aid group, said its program director David Lange narrowly escaped death when he fled the Ambacang Hotel just minutes before it collapsed.

"People are trapped and screaming for help but they are below huge slabs which will take heavy equipment to move," Mr. Lange was quoted as saying in a statement by SurfAid.

"I saw dozens of the biggest buildings collapsed in town. Most of the damage is concentrated in the commercial center market, which was fully packed," he said.

At least 80 people were missing at the five-story Ambacang Hotel, said Indra, a paramedic who uses only one name. Residents who spent a restless night, many sleeping outdoors, were jolted by the new quake yesterday morning. The 6.6 magnitude quake caused fresh panic but no reported deaths. The epicenter was about 140 miles southeast of Padang, the U.S. Geological Survey said.



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