Rescuers scramble to find Indonesia earthquake survivors

Rescue teams in Padang worked to pull survivors from collapsed buildings and clear roads blocked by landslides, as the death toll from Wednesday's earthquake topped 1,100.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Indonesian soldiers and rescue workers search for earthquake victims trapped under a destroyed building in Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia, on Thursday.
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Relief efforts continued Friday in the stricken Indonesian city of Padang, near the epicenter of Wednesday's 7.6-magnitude quake. Rescuers are still digging through the rubble of ruined buildings and homes and, in rare cases, pulling out survivors.

Aid workers are also focused on helping residents left destitute by the disaster. Tens of thousands are estimated to be homeless or afraid to sleep inside unsound buildings, and makeshift shelters have sprouted around the city, much of which lacks access to electricity and water.

Mild aftershocks shook the area Friday, though not on the scale of Wednesday's quake or a second tremor that struck Thursday further south. Aid workers described scenes of devastation, chaos, and grief, as communities held mass funerals for the dead. The United Nations has put the death toll so far at 1,100, though news agencies cited lower tallies from Indonesia's social welfare ministry.

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In Padang, a city of 900,000 residents pinned between the Indian Ocean and a jagged mountain range, tentative signs of life appeared Friday. More cars and motorbikes were seen on the streets and some shops reopened.

Teen freed from collapsed school

And the desperate hunt for the injured trapped under jagged heaps of concrete and steel went on, as authorities struggled to find more excavators to do the job. Some rescuers dug by hand, watched by anxious crowds looking for lost friends and family.

"They're still trying to rescue people, but I don't know if they will succeed when I look at the [damaged] buildings," says Enda Balina, an aid worker for World Vision, speaking from Padang.

Among hundreds of destroyed buildings are high-rise hotels, hospitals, mosques, and shopping malls. Some tall buildings withstood the quake, while others crumpled.

Doctors at the largest public hospital, which was itself damaged, struggled to treat the injured amid power outages and shortages of essential medicines. On Friday, a rescue team pulled a teenager from the wreckage of a college, more than two days after it collapsed, the Associated Press reported. She was taken to the hospital, conscious with minor injuries.

Aid workers are trying to reach Pariang, a district around 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Padang that also suffered quake damage. Telephone lines were still down Friday, and many roads were blocked by landslides amid heavy rains, says Geoff Keele, a Unicef spokesperson in Bangkok.

Food, medicine, tents sent

Authorities in Indonesia have sent tents, blankets, and mats to the area, as well as food and medicine. The United States and other countries have pledged donations and begun sending supplies and specialists.

Mr. Keele says the Indonesian government hadn't yet made a formal appeal for assistance, but a UN assessment team was already on the ground.

The extensive quake damage is likely to require a long-term international aid effort, though probably not on the immense scale of the December 2004 tsunami that was triggered by a massive quake on the same fault line as Wednesday's tremor. UN officials say it's too early to say how much aid is needed.

Ms. Balina said that while women and children were staying in designated evacuation centers, men are sleeping by candlelight outside their houses to guard against looters. Other families had moved in with relatives in outlying districts. "People are still traumatized by the shock," she says.

Soldiers were on the streets and helping to clear the rubble. In outlying villages of Padang, residents told reporters that they were still waiting for help to arrive.

Doctors Without Borders, an aid agency, said a team of specialists was on its way to Padang.

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