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Indonesia earthquake: Rescue teams refocus on survivors

Aid workers say they are unlikely to rescue more people after Wednesday's devastating earthquake. They are racing to deliver supplies to survivors, though roads remain blocked and phone lines cut.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / October 4, 2009

Villagers grab bottles of drinking water supplied by a volunteer in Pariaman town in Indonesia's West Sumatra's province on Sunday.

Dadang Tri / Reuters

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Bangkok, Thailand

Indonesian and foreign rescue teams are continuing to claw through the rubble in search of survivors from Wednesday's earthquake off Sumatra island. But, as hopes fade of finding more people alive, government officials said the aid effort should focus on those left destitute by the disaster.

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Inland from Padang, the worst-hit city on the coast, relief teams are finding more destroyed villages as well as some buried by mudslides after the 7.6-magnitude quake. The devastation in outlying areas, as well as the hundreds of collapsed houses and high-rise buildings in Padang, make it likely that the final death toll will be in the thousands, up from the official tally of 715.

Many towns and villages north and east of Padang were left out of early relief efforts, because roads were blocked and telephone lines cut. The failure of rescuers to reach these areas promptly has forced some residents to dig out corpses with their bare hands, while mechanical diggers plough through the rubble in Padang, a city of 900,000 people. Some villagers expressed anger at the delays.

Roads blocked, slowing aid

Aid workers say that the lack of road access has severely hampered relief efforts but that supplies are starting to flow. "Food is already scarce. What people need now is tents, food, and water," says Endang Trisna, an aid official for Mercy Corps, which is working in Pariaman, a stricken district north of Padang where around 30,000 houses were leveled by the quake.

More international aid is arriving in Sumatra, as foreign organizations join local groups, as well as civilian and military teams, in trying to provide shelter, food, and other services to stricken communities. Cargo planes from the United States, Australia, and Russia are flying in supplies to Padang, while many countries have pledged donations on top of Indonesia's own budget for disaster relief and reconstruction.

Indonesian Vice President Yusuf Kalla said Saturday that electricity and water services in the area should resume within days. Hospitals in Padang have been running generators using scarce fuel, while residents have complained of long lines to fill cars and motorbikes after supplies were disrupted. Schools are due to reopen Monday, though some buildings were destroyed by the quake.

Mr. Kalla struck a pessimistic note on rescue efforts in the rubble and in mud-deluged villages. "We can be sure that they are dead. So now we are waiting for burials," he told reporters.

Mudslides buried entire villages

Ms. Trisna said a village in Pariaman with roughly 300 residents was engulfed by mudslides from two surrounding hills. The number of survivors was unknown. "The village isn't there anymore," she says.

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