Instant noodles dropped for survivors
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By Eric Talmadge and Irwan Firdaus
Padang - Helicopters dropped instant noodles and other aid to cutoff hillside communities that were without food for five days, as rescue workers gave up their search on Monday for survivors from last week's massive Indonesian earthquake.
When all the bodies are counted and the missing declared dead, the death toll from Wednesday's 7.6-magnitude quake in Sumatra island is expected to be in the thousands. The official toll currently 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. Unicef provided tents and basic supplies for schools in three of 10 affected districts.
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.
"It's all gone - my store, it all burned down," said Lucille Samsir, who owned a small shop. "It will take years for us to rebuild. Many women died here in the marketplace. We have to recover. We must."
Emergency workers faced an uphill battle 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 60km 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 spokesperson 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 on Monday but no casualties were reported.
The Meteorological and Geophysics Agency warned the region could see strong winds and storms for the next two days.
Authorities used helicopters to airdrop aid and bring the wounded to hospitals, Prakoso said. Two helicopters conducted six airdrops in isolated areas, delivering instant noodles, blankets, milk and dry food, he said.
On Monday, rescue workers called off the search for possible survivors under the rubble left by the earthquake.
"The chances of survival while being trapped without water and food under the rubble for so long are impossible from now," Prakoso said. "So we will speed up our search to find bodies and clean up the ruins with bulldozers."
Ignacio Leon, head of the UN's humanitarian agency in Indonesia, said the focus had shifted away from finding survivors and "we are supporting the government now more in the relief side".
Government minister Aburizal Bakrie said $600-million was needed to repair infrastructure. Officials initially said $400-million was needed, but raised the estimate after the scale of the disaster became clear.
Hiroaki Sano, head of the Japan Disaster Rescue Team, said international search and rescue teams were winding up operations and preparing to go back home.
"We got here quickly but we haven't found any survivors. The first 100 hours are crucial," he said.
It was unclear precisely how many people were without shelter on Monday, but more than 88 000 houses and 285 schools were flattened in the 10 affected districts, according to the UN and Indonesia's Disaster Management Agency. Another 100 000 public buildings were damaged.
The resumption of classes in Padang was largely symbolic, giving just a few hundred children an opportunity to meet with teachers and receive counselling to overcome the trauma of recent days, including the deaths of relatives and being made homeless.
"The government has called for classes to resume as soon as possible so they can create some normalcy," said Amson Simbolon, a Unicef education officer, as math classes began for around 300 students at one badly damaged school in Padang.
Unicef has provided 15 tents, each with room for 50 to 60 children, and is shipping 220 more by boat from Jakarta, the capital, he said. - Sapa-AP