Frantic search as Indonesia quake toll tops 1 000

Rescue teams dug on Friday through the rubble of buildings shattered by an earthquake in the Indonesian port of Padang for people feared trapped and the United Nations said more than 1 000 had been killed.

Aid to thousands of displaced survivors started trickling in, but rescue operations in and around the West Sumatran capital of 900 000 have been hampered by power blackouts and a lack of heavy equipment to shift fallen masonry.

The United Nations humanitarian chief, John Holmes, told a news conference at UN Headquarters in New York that about 1 100 people had been killed in Wednesday’s 7,6 magnitude quake.

Thousands more were feared trapped under damaged houses, hospitals, hotels and schools, Holmes said.

Telephone links to the disaster zone remained patchy, making it hard to determine the extent of destruction and loss of life.

A social ministry official on Thursday put the number of confirmed deaths at 529, although authorities expect this to go far higher, possibly into the thousands.

The national disaster management centre said 2 181 people had been injured and 2 650 buildings damaged.

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

Workers rigged up floodlights overnight and brought in a giant excavator to try to make their way to students trapped in a three-storey school that had collapsed. Sixty schoolchidren had been attending extra-curricular lessons when the quake struck, the Jakarta Post reported.

Padang has at times descended into chaos, with fuel in short supply, some shops running out of food and many residents scrambling to find clean water. Many roads in the region have been severed by landslides.

Conditions in Pariaman, nearer the quake’s epicentre, may be even worse with reports of buildings flattened. Conditions in more remote areas were unknown.

A two-storey clinic at Padang’s main hospital collapsed, but was empty after closing a few hours before the quake.

Patients from adjacent wards were evacuated to nearby tents, while a makeshift open air morgue was set up, with lines of corpses placed in yellow body bags.

Operations were being performed in nearby white tents.

”We have done hundreds of operations since the earthquake,” Dr Nofli Ichlas said on Thursday. ”Some broken bones, some with limbs completely cut off. Fractured skulls, abdominal trauma too — when something has stabbed into the patients body.”

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono flew to the stricken region after arriving back from the G20 meeting on Thursday and stayed overnight to help oversee the rescue.

A 6,6 magnitude quake hit another part of Sumatra island on Thursday, causing fresh panic but no reported deaths. The second quake’s epicentre was about 225km south-east of Padang, the US Geological Survey said.

Elshinta radio reported that 12 people were hurt in the town of Jambi and 60 houses damaged. – Reuters

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