PADANG: Eight people were believed to be still alive in the ruins of a hotel on Saturday, nearly three days after a strong quake hit Indonesia's port city of Padang.
In most places only bodies were found by rescue teams combing through collapsed buildings for thousands of people still feared trapped beneath the wreckage. The colossal damage that destroyed buildings and roads was hampering the aid effort.
In remoter areas outside Padang the full scale of the disaster was only starting to become clear, with TV footage showing villages obliterated by landslides, and survivors drinking coconut water after their drinking sources were contaminated.
In Padang, eight people were believed to be trapped under the rubble of the ruined Dutch-colonial era Ambacang Hotel.
International rescue teams, including sniffer dogs from Japan and Swiss team, were helping in the effort.
“We think there are eight people alive in there. One sent an SMS to a relative in a village, who got the text at 3 p.m. yesterday,” said Arkamelvi Karmani, an army officer involved in the rescue operation at the site of the hotel.
The message called for help and implored rescuers: “Be careful that the excavator doesn't cause the building to collapse on us.”
Those trapped were believed to be on the 6th floor. Rescuers were building a tunnel into the rubble to try to reach them.
“We think there are 40 bodies left in the hotel,” Karmani said. A seminar organised by an insurance company was taking place there when the 7.6 magnitude quake hit on Wednesday.
The quake from one of the world's most active seismic fault lines along the Pacific “rim of of fire” struck with a force that shook buildings hundreds of kilometres away in Singapore and Malaysia.
Fresh aid supplies were due to arrive at Jakarta's main airport for transfer to the disaster area, 915 km (570 miles) northwest of the capital on the island of Sumatra. Aid was also being shipped from the port of Tanjung Priok in the capital.
Testos, an Indonesian Red Cross worker at an aid station in central Padang, said they now had around half what was needed.
“We also need drinking water and clothes because many peoples clothes were burnt in fires,” he said. “We also need medicines to stop infection.”
The United Nations estimated more than 1,000 had been killed in and around Padang, a city of 900,000. Indonesia's disaster management agency put the toll of confirmed dead and missing so far at 806.
MASKS, SNIFFER DOGS
Rescue teams, many wearing masks to cover the smell of bodies as they worked in the tropical heat, were fanning out from Padang to some of the worst-hit surrounding areas.
TV footage from Pariaman, closer to the quake's epicentre, showed a whole hillside where several villages were located had collapsed, leaving just barren red earth and the odd fallen tree.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, touring the disaster area on Friday, said $10 million in relief would be quickly deployed.
“The 100 billion rupiah fund must flow, no more red tape. This is an emergency, the race is important,” Yudhoyono said.
Indonesia's health minister said the destruction did not appear to be as extensive as first feared, but said the number killed could still number in the low thousands.
“I predict the number will not reach 4,000,” Siti Fadillah Supari was quoted as saying by news website detik.com.
The three provinces affected by Wednesday's disaster, and a second quake inland on Thursday, are major producers of rubber, palm oil, coal and other commodities, although together they accounted for less than 3 percent of Indonesia's overall GDP, according to a report by Bank Danamon in Jakarta.
Aid had arrived from 14 countries, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency said, and specialist rescue teams from countries including Australia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea had arrived or were en route. AGENCIES