Search for earthquake survivors ends

Associated Press / October 6, 2009

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PADANG, Indonesia - Helicopters dropped instant noodles and other aid to hillside communities that were without food for five days as rescue workers gave up their search yesterday for survivors of last week’s massive Indonesian earthquake.

The death toll from Wednesday’s 7.6-magnitude quake in Sumatra island is expected to be in the thousands. Currently, the official toll is 609.

A measure of normalcy returned to Padang, the devastated capital of West Sumatra Province.

Hundreds of children went back to classes in schools set up in tents. In the old market area, stalls were full of food and bustling with residents stocking up on vegetables, fruit, and fish.

Rows of stalls were still smoking from fires that broke out after the quake subsided, possibly from electrical short-circuits. Shopkeepers working beside cracked walls and teetering buildings swept up the mess of concrete and broken glass. The city of 900,000 resembled a sprawling demolition site, with houses, mosques, schools, a mall, and hotels brought down.

Emergency workers faced difficulty trying to reach remote villages in the hills of Pariaman district, where whole villages were wiped out by landslides. The force of the quake gouged out mountainsides and dumped tons of mud, boulders, and trees, burying hundreds of people alive.

Pariaman is only 40 miles from Padang, but many villages in the district have remained inaccessible because of landslides that blocked roads. Heavy rain since Sunday and thick, wet mud also made it difficult for aid workers to reach the stricken areas, said Gagah Prakoso, a spokesman for the Indonesian Search and Rescue Agency.

One road ended at Kampung Dalam village, after which it had caved in, forcing rescue teams from South Korea, France, and Germany to camp there and hike to villages farther away.

Prakoso said the rain caused another landslide yesterday, but no casualties were reported.