Quake-hit Indonesia calls for foreign aid

Quake-hit Indonesia appealed for foreign aid on Friday as the stench of decomposing bodies hung over wrecked buildings where overwhelmed rescuers were scrabbling for survivors.

In the city of Padang, which was devastated by Wednesday’s 7,6-magnitude earthquake, emergency teams faced a third night of work to pull bodies from ruins that have claimed the lives of at least 1 100 people.

“Our main problem is that there are a lot of victims still trapped in the rubble. We are struggling to pull them out,” Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari told reporters.

“We need help from foreign countries for evacuation efforts. We need them to provide skilled rescuers with equipment,” she said, also appealing for medics to treat badly injured victims, many with broken bones.

Homeless survivors in the coastal city have spent two nights sleeping out in the open and are hungry, frightened and falling victim to profiteers who have jacked up prices of water and other essentials.

Several countries have pledged aid and sent emergency teams to the area, but efforts to organise a full-scale rescue operation are being hampered by blocked roads, broken power lines, and patchy communication networks.

The Red Cross in Geneva said aerial photos suggested the disaster zone extended much further than had previous been known—stretching far across West Sumatra, with some villages entirely destroyed.

“The feedback is that Padang city and environs are bad, but once you go outside into the surrounding rural areas, the situation is very seriously grave,” said Christine South of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Society.

“There was talk of complete devastation of some villages, 100% devastation, and 50% in others,” she added.

Rescuers labouring in the tropical heat in Padang said they lacked essential heavy machinery like cutting equipment and excavators.

“We don’t have proper equipment.
We don’t even have dogs,” said Suryadi Soedarmo, a surgeon from an emergency ambulance service in the capital, Jakarta, who arrived with 10 experts trained to enter collapsed structures.

The United Nations said that 1 100 have died in the disaster. The government put the death toll at 777 but has said it expects the figure to go much higher.

Lucky survivor
One lucky survivor was 20-year-old Ratna Kurnia Sari, who was pulled limp and covered in dust from the ruins of a college after spending more than 40 hours buried beneath rubble.

Another woman, 20-year-old Nopa Labianawho, remained pinned under a mountain of concrete there, shouting frantically to rescue workers and urging them to come to her aid.

Almost all the buildings in Padang are damaged and roughly a quarter are ruined, presenting this city of one million people with a colossal rebuilding task.

Like many of the collapsed structures, the stench of death hung over the Ambacang Hotel in central Padang as the bodies trapped inside began to decompose under the baking sun.

Manager Sarana Aji said that only a few dozen people had emerged from the building where two events involving more than 100 people were being held when the quake reduced the concrete and steel structure to a heap.

Planes laden with aid have started arriving, international organisations are on the ground and foreign governments including Japan, Switzerland and Germany have sent specialist rescue workers and cash.

A Swiss team of about 120 rescue workers with a dozen much-needed sniffer dogs were seen beginning work.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, whose government was criticised over its handling of the devastating 2004 tsunami, called for $10-million in government aid to be distributed quickly.

“The ... fund has to flow quickly, no more bureaucracy for this. This is an emergency so speed is crucial,” he was quoted as saying at the disaster area by Kompas news website.

US President Barack Obama said he was “deeply moved” by the loss of life and suffering as Washington announced $300 000 in immediate aid and set aside another $3-million to help quake victims.

The quake struck off Sumatra’s west coast, north-west of Padang, on a major faultline on the volatile “Ring of Fire” that scientists have long warned was a disaster waiting to happen.—AFP