Some schools reopen in quake-hit Indonesia city
PADANG, Indonesia (Reuters) – Markets reopened and some children attended school in the shattered port city of Padang on Monday, but no hope remained for some inland villages which would be left as mass graves.
Relief workers said there was little chance of finding anyone else alive in the ruins five days after a 7.6 magnitude quake hit the Indonesia island of Sumatra.
An official said three hamlets on the foothills of the Gunung Tigo mountain wiped out by landslides would be turned into mass graves.
“Instead of the extra cost of evacuating the corpses, it’s better to allocate the money for the living,” Ade Edward, the head of the West Sumatra earthquake coordinating desk was quoted by Kompas newspaper as saying.
While aid and international rescue teams have poured into Padang, a city of 900,000, help has been slow to reach remoter inland areas, with landslides cutting many roads.
When rescuers arrived they found entire villages obliterated by landslides and homeless survivors desperate for food, water and shelter.
“I am the only one left,” said Zulfahmi, 39, who was in the village of Kapalo Koto, near Pariaman, about 40 km (25 miles) north of Padang, with 36 family members when the quake struck.
“My child, my wife, my mother-in-law, they are all gone. They are under the earth now.”
Health officials said five villages had been buried in torrents of mud and rock torn out of the lush green hills by the force of the quake.
“In the villages in Pariaman, we estimate about 600 people died,” said Rustam Pakaya, head of the Health Ministry’s crisis centre. Pariaman, closer to the epicentre, is one of the worst-affected areas.
“In one of the villages, there’s a 20-metre-high minaret, it was completely buried, there’s nothing left, so I presume the whole village is buried by a 30-metre deep landslide.”
FEARS OF DISEASE
On Sunday, people were still digging at the landslide sites with wooden hoes, but the chances of finding anyone alive beneath the wet, compacted red earth appeared hopeless.
For the survivors, aid was still urgently needed.
“We haven’t had any food except instant noodles for four days. There are lots of injured and we need medical help,” said Hery, an official in Sungai Limau. A noticeboard by his office listed the names of the dead, with ages ranging from one to 95.
Indonesia’s health minister, Siti Fadillah Supari, estimated the death toll could reach 3,000, adding that disease was becoming a concern, especially in Padang city, where a pervading stench of decomposing bodies hangs over the ruined buildings.
“We are trying to recover people from the debris, dead or alive. We are trying to help survivors to stay alive. We are now focusing on minimising post-quake deaths,” she told Reuters.
But a spokesman for the national disaster agency said that the toll may not be so high. “The death toll could reach over 1,000 but I don’t think it will go far higher than that,” spokesman Priyadi Kardono said.
Some children returned to school on Monday in Padang as the city attempted to return to some form of normalcy.
“The building is safe enough but we have no power and water doesn’t always come out of the tap. Most students came today and we have class as usual,” said Tri Raswati, 17, at High School No. 3 in East Padang.
But at another school children were turned away, because of the danger of collapse in a nearby building.
Indonesia’s disaster agency said about 180,000 homes and 20,000 buildings had been damaged in the quake, with most government offices destroyed.
Padang lies on one of the most active faultlines in the world, but a geologist said the city had been ill-prepared and remained at risk of being wiped out in the next decade by a more powerful earthquake.
“I think Padang is totally unprepared. Generally, the existing structures are not designed to be quake-proof and that’s why the devastation is so great,” said Danny Hilman Natawidjaja from the Indonesian Science Institute.
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