777 dead in Indonesia earthquake

PADANG, Indonesia - October 1, 2009 The brunt of Wednesday's 7.6-magnitude earthquake, which originated in the sea off Sumatra island, appeared to have been borne by the city of Padang, where a government official said most the deaths occured.

The region was jolted by another powerful earthquake Thursday morning, causing damage but no reported fatalities.

More than 500 buildings including hotels, schools, hospitals and a mall were destroyed or damaged in Padang. Thousands of people were still believed to be trapped in the rubble, said Rustam Pakaya, head of the Health Ministry's crisis center. Workers used backhoes to shift debris.

The government official told The Associated Press that at least 777 people are confirmed to have died in the quake, with about 300 seriously injured. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. He said most of the dead were in Padang.

At the United Nations, U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes said Thursday the latest figures "suggest the death toll has risen already to 1,100" and likely would go higher given the number of injured and those believed trapped in collapsed buildings.

"Oh God, help me! help me!" Friska Yuniwati, a 30-year-old woman, screamed in pain, as she was carried to an ambulance in downtown Padang. She had been pulled out minutes earlier from the rubble of a house, her face covered in bruises and eyes shut.

John Lee, a Singaporean guest at the flattened Maryani hotel, was pulled free by rescue workers who heard his cries for help. He had been trapped for 25 hours with a broken leg.

Padang's state-run Djamil Hospital was overwhelmed by the influx of victims and families. Dozens of injured people were being treated under tents outside the hospital, which was itself partly damaged.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pledged to do "everything we can" to help the victims.

"Let's not underestimate (the disaster). Let's be prepared for the worst," Yudhoyono said in Jakarta before flying to Padang, a coastal city of 900,000 and capital of West Sumatra province.

The Social Affairs Ministry's crisis center said 440 people were seriously injured. UNICEF said tens of thousands of people had been made homeless, one third of them children.

"The needs of thousands of children are vast and urgent. They must have access to clean water, shelter," Angela Kearney, the U.N. body's Indonesian chief, said in a statement.

One focus for emergency workers was a collapsed 4-story concrete building in downtown Padang, where 30 children had been taking classes when the quake struck. Four students were found alive and six bodies were dug from the rubble. Dozens were missing, said Jamil, a volunteer. "It's getting very difficult now to find more victims," he said.

Parents of missing students stayed up all night, waiting for signs of life.

"My daughter's face keeps appearing in my eyes ... my mind. I cannot sleep, I'm waiting here to see her again," a woman who identified herself only as Imelda said, tears rolling down her face. She said her 12-year-old daughter Yolanda was in the school for science lessons.

"She is a good daughter and very smart. I really love her. Please, God help her," she said.

In another building, rescue workers passed a plastic bottle of water through an opening in the rubble to a person trapped underneath.

The president ordered the military to deploy emergency response teams from Jakarta, West Sumatra and North Sumatra provinces. He said the military will provide earth-moving equipment to clear the rubble.

SurfAid, a New Zealand-based medical aid group, said its program director David Lange narrowly escaped death when he fled the Ambacang Hotel minutes before it collapsed.

"People are trapped and screaming for help but they are below huge slabs which will take heavy equipment to move," Lange was quoted as saying in a statement by SurfAid.

"I saw dozens of the biggest buildings collapsed in town. Most of the damage is concentrated in the commercial center market, which was fully packed," he said.

At least 80 people were missing at the five-story Ambacang Hotel, said Indra, a paramedic who uses only one name.

Terrified residents who spent a restless night, many sleeping outdoors, were jolted by the new quake Thursday morning.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake hit about 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of Padang. It damaged 1,100 buildings, including mosques and homes, in the town of Jambi, according to Mayor Hasfiah, who uses only one name like many Indonesians. He said there were no deaths, but dozens of people were injured.

Wednesday's quake was so powerful that it caused buildings to sway hundreds of miles (kilometers) away in Malaysia and Singapore. In Padang, children screamed as thousands of frantic residents fled in cars and motorbikes, honking horns. They feared the quake would trigger a tsunami, but no giant waves struck.

The quake severed roads and cut off power and communications to Padang, and the extent of damage in surrounding areas was still unclear.

Indonesia, a poor, sprawling nation, sits on a major geological fault zone and is frequently hit by earthquakes. The latest quakes were along the same fault line that spawned the 2004 Asian tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen nations.

Geologists said the Indonesia quakes were not related to another deadly quake Tuesday that hit islands in the South Pacific.

Padang's mayor appealed for assistance on Indonesian radio station el-Shinta.

"We are overwhelmed with victims and ... lack of clean water, electricity and telecommunications," Mayor Fauzi Bahar said. "We really need help. We call on people to come to Padang to evacuate bodies and help the injured."

Finance minister Sri Mulyani said the government has allocated $25 million for a two-month emergency response. She said the earthquake will seriously affect Indonesia's economic growth, because West Sumatra is a main producer of crude palm oil.

"This region has been damaged seriously, including its infrastructure," Mulyani said.


Associated Press writers Ali Kotarumalos and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2024 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.