Hunt for quake victims in Java is stepped up

Death toll rises to 57 as Indonesia's President visits island disaster scene
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Rescue workers were last night still pulling bodies from homes buried by a landslide that was triggered by a powerful earthquake in Indonesia.

At least 57 people have been killed and more than 10,000 buildings badly damaged by Wednesday's 7.0-magnitude quake, centred just off the coast of the densely populated island of Java.

At least 110 people needed hospital treatment for their injuries, said Priyadi Kardono, a spokesman for the country's disaster management agency.

Heavy digging equipment had not reached parts of the worst affected district in West Java province, which was visited by the President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, yesterday. Police, troops and villagers were using their hands to remove rubble.

"Everything is gone, my wife, my old father-in-law and my house... now I just hope to find the bodies of my family," said Ahmad Suhana, 34, a farmer, as he pried at giant stones with a crowbar. Yudhoyono cautioned rescue workers to be wary of dozens of aftershocks "although they are becoming less powerful." He pledged $500,000 (£306,000) in state aid to help victims.

More than 24,800 homes, offices, schools and mosques were damaged, about 10,000 seriously. At least 3,100 people were forced into temporary shelters, and the Red Cross distributed 1,500 tents, as well as blankets, clean water and other provisions.

Some rural areas, particularly along the southern coast, could not be reached by telephone, and there may be more victims and damage. Many of the deaths and injuries were caused by falling debris or collapsed structures.

The death toll continued to rise yesterday. More than a dozen bodies were dug out of the rubble in Cianjur district, where a landslide buried a row of homes in the village of Cikangkareng. Villagers were searching for more than 30 friends and relatives listed as missing and feared dead.

Maskana Sumitra, a district administrator, said 11 houses and a mosque were buried by a landslide. "The chance of survival is so slim... but we have to find them," Sumitra added.

When the quake struck on Wednesday afternoon, it was felt hundreds of miles away on the neighbouring resort island of Bali. In the capital, Jakarta, 125 miles north of the quake's underwater epicentre, thousands of panicked office workers flooded out of swaying skyscrapers on to the streets.

Hospitals in towns and cities across West Java quickly filled with scores of injured people, most with broken bones and cuts. In Cikangkareng, Dede Kurniati said her nine-year-old son was playing at a friend's house when the earthquake struck and was now "buried under the rocks".

"I lost my son... now I just want to see his body. I want to bury my lovely son properly," she said, weeping.