5 Oct 2009

Heavy rain hampering Sumatran rescue efforts

9:11 pm on 5 October 2009

Some semblance of normal life is slowly returning to the city of Padang on the Indonesian island of Sumatra after last week's powerful earthquake.

Foreign rescue workers continue to arrive but heavy rain and collapsed buildings are hindering their work.

The death toll from the 7.6 quake, officially 603 as of Monday, is expected to rise to at least 3,000. Padang, a city of 900,000 people, took the full force of the quake; hardly a building has been left undamaged.

Thousands of people could still be buried by dirt and debris. Entire villages have been destroyed in remote areas. But aid workers say hopes of finding more survivors are dim.

Several hundred schools were among more than 180,000 buildings destroyed or badly damaged by the earthquake, Indonesia's Disaster Management Agency has said.

Children lining up for classes again

But the BBC reports that people in Padang are beginning to get on with their lives. On Monday morning, for instance, children lined up outside schools, dressed in crisp white uniforms.

"The government called for classes to resume as soon as possible so they can create some normalcy," says Amson Simbolon, an education officer for Unicef.

Some shops and businesses were also seen re-opening in the city as work clearing the destruction left by the quake continued.

The economy is running at 60%, according to a provincial government officer, who says that petrol supply is 100% but water supply is still only 40%.

Village wedding party buried alive

Planeloads of aid are landing at Padang airport at regular intervals but the challenge is to get the material to where it is needed most.

The district of Pariman to the north of Padang has been particularly hard hit. It has only one hospital and is overwhelmed; operations are being performed in corridors.

To make matters worse, torrential rain is falling again, making it even harder to reach communities cut off by landslides.

The ABC reports that 200 to 300 people were killed in one village as they attended wedding celebrations at a restaurant. They ran outside but were swept away by a landslide. The bride, groom and their families were among those buried.