Indonesians Join in Frantic Search for Buried Earthquake Victims in Sumatra; Death Toll Over 1,100

JAKARTA, Oct. 2 (UPI) — Indonesians joined in a frantic search Friday for survivors in Sumatra province where officials said the death toll from back-to-back earthquakes was climbing.

As the United Nations estimated the number of dead at 1,100, survivors — using every means including their hands to claw through the rubble of collapsed structures — joined rescue and relief teams to save those trapped under the debris.

Some residents in Padang fought home and other fires with buckets of water, Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported.

In announcing the latest death toll of 1,100, John Holmes, head of the U.N. humanitarian agency, warned it could rise further.

“It’s still feared that thousands of people are trapped under damaged houses and many buildings,” he said.

Padang — the provincial capital and a major port, where authorities fought to bring back normalcy working with few essential services, broken roads and poor communication — was hit hardest.

The immediate task was to find survivors trapped under the rubble since Wednesday when the first quake, with a magnitude of 7.6, struck the island. The second, with a magnitude of 6.6, hit Thursday.

In Padang, at least 60 people were feared trapped under a collapsed restaurant, favored by college students, the BBC reported.

Doctors and staff at hospitals in Padang, faced with no power, treated the injured outside partially downed buildings as bodies lay stacked up in makeshift morgues, CNN reported.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who toured the disaster sites, urged rescue teams not to give up their search, ad announced the release of funds for emergency programs for two months, the Antara news agency reported.

The BBC reported the first flights carrying food and aid had arrived but much more was needed. The report said rescue teams had not been able to reach many parts of Padang, which has a population of 900,000.

U.S. President Barack Obama, recalling his days growing up in Indonesia, expressed his deep sympathy over the tragedy.

“I know that the Indonesian people are strong and resilient and have the heart to overcome this challenge,” he said.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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