With emergency aid in short supply, a desperate search-and-rescue effort was mounted in Padang on Thursday in a race to save thousands of people trapped under rubble from buildings that collapsed after the powerful earthquake the day before.
The death toll as of late Thursday remained unclear, with the United Nations putting the number of fatalities at 1,100, while some media agencies quoted the ministries of health and social affairs as saying 770 fatalities had been confirmed.
But with rescue efforts only reaching the surface of the extensive ruins dotting this city of 900,000, the death toll from the 7.6-magnitude quake is feared to run into the thousands.
Poor transportation and communications made it difficult to determine the actual number of people missing or trapped, or the extent of damage in surrounding areas. Wednesday’s quake toppled at least 500 buildings in Padang, started fires, severed roads and caused power and communications outages. All main roads leading to Padang from the neighboring provinces of North Sumatra, Riau, Jambi and Bengkulu were cut off by landslides.
Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati announced on Thursday that Rp 250 billion ($26 million) had been prepared for initial relief efforts. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who flew to Padang on the same day, indicated that the government was ready to accept foreign assistance.
A number of foreign governments had offered aid, but none had been confirmed as of press time. Meanwhile, various government agencies immediately mobilized teams to assist survivors and rescue those still trapped.
Armed Forces Chief Gen. Djoko Santoso said more than 1,000 soldiers had been dispatched to the city, and National Police spokesman Nana Soekarna said 500 members of the elite Mobile Brigade (Brimob) from neighboring provinces were sent to help rescue efforts.
Soldiers, policemen and volunteers, along with heavy machinery, were mostly concentrated around two multistory hotels that had collapsed in downtown Padang — the seven-story Bumi Minang and the nearby five-story Ambacang. Only one survivor has so far been pulled from the wreckage of the Bumi Minang. More than 100 victims were believed to be trapped under the toppled Ambacang.
The police also sent a 40-person medical and forensic team along with medicine and mobile communications equipment. The military said it had prepared four Hercules military transport aircraft to lift personnel and aid, the police lent five aircraft and the Navy deployed six vessels, including some that would be transformed into floating hospitals operating off the coast of West Sumatra.
Despite these deployments of aid, the humanitarian needs were overwhelming. The Muhammad Djamil General Hospital, part of it severely damaged, and the Yos Sudarso Hospital, both in Padang, were overflowing with the wounded. Large military tents were erected on open spaces in the hospital compounds for surgery and to shelter patients.
As the sun set on Thursday, residents of Padang and the surrounding countryside, scared of more aftershocks, prepared to spend a second night in the makeshift tents and shelters they had erected in the open, despite the rains that have been falling over the past few days.
More than 24 hours after the disaster struck, the city was still bereft of electricity, communication was erratic, and with shops closed, food, water and other essentials were scarce. Public transportation was almost nonexistent, and vehicles that were still operable after the quake were stuck for hours in long lines for fuel.
“I can’t buy bread anymore, all I have is instant noodles,” said Afrini Yeti, a housewife in Padang. In Pariaman, just northwest of Padang and the town closest to the epicenter of the quake, a small post set up by the local police was flooded by people reporting missing family and friends.
Among them, was Efrijon Darwis, 47, a resident of South Pariaman, who was looking for his wife and two daughters. Nelly Gustif, 46, had gone to Padang by train to shop with her two daughters, Annisa Melia, 16, and Safira Tri Darmayanti, 10. “I don’t know where I should look for them now. I hope they are still alive,” he told the Jakarta Globe.
Source: The JakartaGlobe (02/10/2009)