October 3, 2009 in Nation/World

Thousands missing in Indonesia

City’s collapsed buildings expected to yield bodies
Charles Mcdermid And Mark Magnier Los Angeles Times
Associated Press photo

An Indonesian rescue team on Friday pulls out a survivor who had been trapped in a building since Wednesday’s earthquake in Padang, Indonesia.
(Full-size photo)

PADANG, Indonesia – Power is out in many parts of town and some hospitals have collapsed. Cell phone networks are brittle or broken. And across the earthquake-flattened Indonesian port city of Padang, rescue teams continued to pull bodies from the rubble, more than 1,100 by the official count today.

With so much of the city in ruins, the toll is expected to rise dramatically.

“We’ve heard it so many times: ‘Ambulance. Body bag. Ambulance. Body bag. We need more oxygen, more masks,’ ” said Aim Zein, whose indie FM radio station PRONEWS 90 that he runs from home is one of the few remaining sources of information for many of Padang’s 900,000 residents and is helping coordinate the relief operation.

“It’s always the same story and the same items,” Zein said.

Rescue efforts after Wednesday’s 7.6 magnitude quake were hampered by a lack of heavy digging equipment needed to pry apart huge slabs of concrete that fell atop each other as buildings collapsed. About 3,000 people may still be trapped beneath the rubble, and several times that number have been hospitalized, officials said.

Poor communications has limited damage reports from Padang’s outlying areas, where damage also is extensive and death tolls are expected to rise.

But Padang, a coastal city of 900,000 and the capital of West Sumatra province, may have been the hardest hit. Dozens of buildings around the city, including several government facilities, lie in heaps of rubble.

Only despair was in the air at Gedung Pelayanan Hospital on Friday night. The hospital was partially damaged in the quake, leaving patients hooked to IVs to be cared for under tents in the parking lot. The odor from bodies kept in a makeshift morgue up the road caused many in the crowd to cover their noses.

“You can see the condition of the hospital – we have to put the patients outside once they stabilize,” said Meta Silvia, a 22-year-old medical student who was tending to the wounded.

There were some near-miracles. Student Ratna Kurniasari Virgo, 19, was pulled alive from the rubble of her college, the Foreign Language School of Prayoga, on Friday, about 40 hours after the quake hit.

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