Sumatra death toll rises to 1,100

UN warns that full scale of quake disaster still unknown as many remain trapped under collapsed buildings
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The Independent Online

Eight small bodies had already been pulled from the wreckage of the Padang school, but Andriana's 14-year-old daughter had not been found, dead or alive. As Andriana paced back and forth, watching police pick through the rubble, her dreadful limbo was mirrored across Padang, the Indonesian coastal city devastated by a 7.6-magnitude earthquake and hit again yesterday by another substantial tremor.

That large swathes of the city have been destroyed is clear, but with many people trapped under collapsed buildings, the full scale of the tragedy on Sumatra island has yet to emerge.

The UN humanitarian chief John Holmes said last night that at least 1,100 people had died so far and hundreds more were injured. "These numbers, I fear, will rise as more information becomes available," he said.

The second tremor, 150 miles south of Padang, in Jambi province, sent residents fleeing from their homes in panic. No further deaths were reported, but dozens of people were injured and hundreds of buildings, including mosques and homes, were demolished.

A relief effort got under way yesterday but was hampered by pouring rain and gridlock in Padang, which is home to nearly one million people, many of whom wandered the streets in a daze yesterday. Flights landed carrying cargoes of food, medicine and body bags. At some sites, rescue workers used excavators to pull screaming survivors from the wreckage. Elsewhere, they dug through mountains of debris with bare hands.

All three hospitals in the city were severely damaged. At the partially collapsed Djamil Hospital, the city's largest, doctors worked frantically to treat the injured in hastily erected tents. As more cases of broken bones, head injuries and trauma arrived, one medic, Emilzon, said: "We are running out of doctors and nurses because we are overwhelmed with patients." A makeshift morgue was set up outside. The first, 7.6-magnitude, quake on Wednesday came hours after a powerful tremor in the South Pacific triggered a tsunami that killed at least 150 people in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga. The tremor in Sumatra, possibly a large aftershock, measured 6.6. With roads cut and telephones down, the impact on areas outside Padang is not yet clear.

Padang itself, a port city encircled by mountains, is built on one of the world's most active fault lines: the same one that sparked the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. Nonetheless, locals were shocked by the quake's ferocity. "I saw the road move up and down like a wave," said Anas Taylor, 54. "The ground was not just shaking, but actually jumping up and down. It's by far the worst I've ever seen."

Yesterday, chaos ensued in the city; electricity and communications were down, shops were running out of water and residents were scrambling for seats on planes out of the region.

Greg Hunt, an American, said: "It's getting nasty in town. There's no fuel. People are looting. It's getting worse because people have no food, no money. There are thousands trying to leave town; the roads are blocked.

"I have been through quakes here before and this was the worst," he told Reuters. "There is blood everywhere, people with their limbs cut off. We saw a lady half-buried under cement. She was trying to leave a building, and as she left, the building fell down and took her leg off."

Hotels, markets and a shopping centres were wrecked by the quake. Inside houses where walls and roofs had tumbled, the furniture still stood, surrounded by rubble. One half-collapsed house, draped with red sashes and gold decorations, had been prepared for a wedding. There was no sign of the bride or groom.

The Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, returned from the G20 summit in the US and flew to Padang yesterday. "Let's not underestimate [the disaster]," he said. "Let's be prepared for the worst. We will do everything we can to help the victims."

At the school outside which Andriana was pacing, 30 children had been taking extra classes when the Earth had shuddered. "I've been waiting here since yesterday," she told Agence France-Presse. "I haven't been home yet and keep praying to God my daughter is alive."

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