Indonesia appeals for aid as quake toll tops 1,000

As rescue workers struggled to reach people trapped in the rubble of Wednesday’s quake, Indonesia’s health minister appealed for foreign aid on Friday as the death toll surpassed 1,000, according to UN estimates.


AFP - Indonesia appealed for foreign aid Friday as the stench of decomposing bodies hung over wrecked buildings where overwhelmed rescuers were searching for survivors.

In the city of Padang, which was devastated by Wednesday's 7.6-magnitude quake, ill-equipped emergency teams worked around the clock to pull bodies from ruins that have claimed the lives of at least 1,100 people.

In the villages outside the capital of West Sumatra, survivors who have spent two nights sleeping out in the open said they were hungry and frightened, and still waiting for the first signs of government assistance.

"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.

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

"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 command and control is also bad. It will jeopardise our rescue efforts," he told AFP.

As rescuers laboured in the tropical heat, the chances of recovering survivors from the wreckage is fading fast.

"Looking at the situation, the chance of pulling people alive from the rubble is very slim," Indonesian Red Crescent secretary general Djazuli Ambari told AFP.

Lying trapped for a third day under a mountain of rubble that was once her school, time was running out for Ratna Kurnia Sari.

As her helpless brother looked on, rescuers battled to reach the 20-year-old who had been given water and biscuits to sustain her during her long ordeal.

"She is still alive, rescuers have communicated with her but we fear that the rescue process is taking so long that she might lose her life," her brother Indra Vijaya told AFP.

"The evacuation process is slow. There was no equipment on the first day of the quake, only the second day the excavator arrived and on the third day my sister is still buried under the rubble," he said.

The United Nations said in New York on Thursday that 1,100 have died in the disaster. The government puts the death toll at 777, but said that figure would be revised upwards.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has sought to cast himself as in control of the disaster. His government was criticised for its response to the 2004 tsunami which killed 168,000 in Aceh province.

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

But many in the villages outside Padang, amidst scenic mist-shrouded hills, said they had not yet received any help.

"We're living in fear of another bigger quake. We're angry that no aid has come. We're hungry and we're traumatised," Ernalis, a 40-year-old resident of Parak Buruk on the edge of Padang told AFP.

US President Barack Obama said he was "deeply moved" by the loss of life and suffering as Washington announced 300,000 dollars in immediate aid and set aside another three million to help quake victims.

"I know that the Indonesian people are strong and resilient and have the heart to overcome this challenge," said Obama, who spent part of his childhood living in Jakarta.

The quake struck off Sumatra's west coast northwest of Padang, on a major faultline on the volatile "Ring of Fire" that scientists have long warned was a disaster waiting to happen.

A massive 9.1-magnitude quake off Aceh in northern Sumatra triggered the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 220,000.

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