At least 529 people have died in a huge earthquake that struck Indonesia’s Sumatra island, a social affairs ministry official said Thursday afternoon, adding that some affected areas remain cut off.
“So far, 529 people have died from the West Sumatra earthquake from six affected districts,” Tugyo Bisri, an official from the ministry’s disaster team, told AFP.
“There are areas within the districts we have not been able to reach at all.”
The death toll is feared to run into the thousands after the 7.6 earthquake struck on Wednesday evening.
The powerful earthquake triggered landslides and trapped thousands of people under collapsed buildings — including two hospitals, an official said.
But that number was likely to soar, officials said, as the first outside rescue teams from the Indonesian army and health ministry reached the city to reinforce overwhelmed police on the ground.
“It’s difficult to confirm the death toll as communications have been cut off,” Disaster Management Agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono said in Jakarta.
“We need heavy machinery to lift the rubble... we expect that to arrive at the location soon,” he added.
The temblor started fires, severed roads and cut off power and communications to Padang, a coastal city of 900,000 on Sumatra island. Thousands fled in panic, fearing a tsunami.
In the sprawling low-lying city of Padang, the shaking was so intense that people crouched or sat on the street to avoid falling. Children screamed as an exodus of thousands tried to get away from the coast in cars and motorbikes, honking horns.
At least 500 buildings in Padang, the regional capital, collapsed or were badly damaged, said Kardono.
The extent of damage in surrounding areas was still unclear due to poor communications, he said.
The shaking flattened buildings and felled trees in Padang, damaged mosques and hotels and crushed cars. A foot could be seen sticking out from one pile of rubble. At daybreak, residents used their bare hands to search for survivors, pulling at the wreckage and tossing it away piece by piece.
“People ran to high ground. Houses and buildings were badly damaged,” said Kasmiati, who lives on the coast near the quake’s epicenter.
“I was outside, so I am safe, but my children at home were injured,” she said before her cell phone went dead.
The loss of telephone service deepened the worries of those outside the stricken area.
“I want to know what happened to my sister and her husband,” said Fitra Jaya, who owns a house in downtown Padang and was in Jakarta when the quake hit. “I tried to call my family there, but I could not reach anyone at all.”
Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari told MetroTV that two hospitals and a mall collapsed in Padang.
“This is a high-scale disaster,” Supari said.
Hospitals struggled to treat the injured as their relatives hovered nearby.
Indonesia’s government announced $10 million in emergency response aid and medical teams and military planes were being dispatched to set up field hospitals and distribute tents, medicine and food rations. Members of the Cabinet were preparing for the possibility of thousands of deaths.
Rustam Pakaya, head of the Health Ministry’s crisis center, said Wednesday that thousands of people had been trapped under the collapsed houses. It was unclear how many people were still missing or trapped by Thursday morning.
Local television reported more than two dozen landslides. Some blocked roads, causing miles-long traffic jams of cars and trucks.
Source: AP, AFP(01/10/2009)