Indonesia quake death toll reaches 1,100

At least 1,100 people have died as a result of earthquakes that have struck Indonesia over the past two days, according to a UN official, as search efforts were suspended for the night.
Residents walk through the rubble in Padang, Indonesia, on Thursday. ((Dita Alangkara/Associated Press))

At least 1,100 people have died as a result of earthquakes that have struck Indonesia over the past two days, according to a UN official, as search efforts were suspended for the night.

John Holmes, the UN's humanitarian chief, said he feared thousands more victims are trapped under rubble. Government figures put the number of dead at 777, with at least 440 people seriously injured.

A boy stands near a flattened building in Padang on Thursday. ((Dita Alangkara/Associated Press))

A 7.6-magnitude earthquake on Wednesday had an epicentre about 50 kilometres off the coast of Sumatra. That was followed by a 6.8-magnitude tremor on Thursday.

"This is a high-scale disaster," Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari told Metro TV. "I think it's more than thousands [dead], if we look at how widespread the damage is. But we don't really know yet."

Earlier, television footage from the region showed heavy equipment working to break through layers of concrete in a search for survivors.

"Oh God, help me! Help me!" Friska Yuniwati, 30, screamed as she was carried in pain to an ambulance in downtown Padang after being pulled from the debris of a house.

Dozens of injured people were being treated under tents outside the city's partially collapsed hospital.

"We have done hundreds of operations since the earthquake — some broken bones, some with limbs completely cut off, fractured skulls, abdominal trauma, too," Dr. Nofli Ichlas told Reuters.

'It's getting nasty'

A makeshift morgue has been set up near the tents and corpses were being lined up in yellow body bags.

Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie warned the damage caused by the quake could be similar to 2006, when a tremor in Java killed 5,000 people and damaged 150,000 homes.

Padang, a coastal city of 900,000 and the capital of West Sumatra province, is the focus of relief workers.

Witnesses said the city is in chaos with fires still burning, buildings and markets collapsed, and water in the streets. Roadways are in gridlock as people try to flee to higher ground. The airport in the city is open and witnesses said people are seeking shelter there and sleeping on mats while awaiting flights out of the region.

"It's getting nasty in town. It's chaos. There's no fuel. People are looting. It's getting worse because people have no food, no money. There's thousands trying to leave town, the roads are blocked," American Greg Hunt told Reuters.

500 buildings destroyed

At least 500 buildings in Padang collapsed or were badly damaged in Wednesday's quake. More buildings have been damaged by the tremor on Thursday, officials said.

A family trying to find a relative checks a body at a hospital in Padang on Thursday. ((Muhammad Fitrah/Reuters))
At least 80 people were missing in the collapsed five-storey Ambacang Hotel in downtown Padang. As of Thursday afternoon, only two survivors and nine bodies had been found in the rubble.

At least 30 children are also missing in the debris of a school where they had been attending after-school classes when the quake hit. Four students have been found alive and six bodies recovered.

"My daughter's face keeps appearing in my eyes … my mind. I cannot sleep, I'm waiting here to see her again," said a woman waiting at the scene for word on the missing students. "Please God, help her. I hope rescuers … can help her out of here," she said.

Other damaged buildings include hospitals, mosques, homes and a mall, officials said.

'We really need help'

Padang Mayor Fauzi Bahar pleaded for aid on the el-Shinta radio station on Thursday.

"We are overwhelmed with victims and … lack of clean water, electricity and telecommunications," Bahar said. "We really need help. We call on people to come to Padang to evacuate bodies and help the injured."

Several roads, bridges, electrical and communication lines have also been cut off because of the quake — making rescue and aid efforts difficult. Heavy rain in the region is also hampering efforts, officials said.

Indonesia's president has ordered the military to deploy emergency response teams from Jakarta, West Sumatra and North Sumatra provinces.

Geologists have long said Padang could be destroyed by a huge earthquake because of its location.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago, straddles continental plates and is prone to seismic activity along what is known as the Pacific Ring of Fire. The quake was along the same fault line that spawned the massive December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 230,000 people in a dozen countries.

Indonesia's government has announced $10 million US 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.

A spokesperson for Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said Canada had been in contact with Indonesian authorities, who said Canadian military's Disaster Assistance Response Team is not currently required there. DART, a group of about 200 soldiers, is designed to fly into disaster areas and provide water and medical assistance until long-term aid arrives.

The latest quakes came in the wake of a deadly tsunami Tuesday that hit islands in the South Pacific, killing at least 149 people. But geologists said the two events were not related.

With files from The Associated Press