PADANG, Indonesia – The death toll from Indonesia’s massive earthquake will likely double as officials on Saturday reached rural communities wiped out by landslides that buried more than 600 people under mountains of mud, most of them guests at a wedding celebration.
Virtually nothing remained of four villages that had dotted the hillside of the Padang Pariman district in Indonesia’s West Sumatra just three days ago, said officials and an Associated Press photographer who flew over the devastated area.
Hundreds of doctors, nurses, search and rescue experts and cleanup crews arrived at the regional airport from around the globe with tons of food, tents, medicine, clean water, generators and a field hospital.
But with no electricity, fuel shortages and telecommunication outages, the massive operation was chaotic.
Roughly 400 people were at a communal wedding in Pulau Aiya village when Wednesday’s 7.6 magnitude quake unleashed a torrent of mud, rock and felled palm trees, said Rustam Pakaya, the head of Indonesia’s Health Ministry crisis center.
“They were sucked 30 meters (100 feet) deep into the earth,” he said. “Even the mosque’s minaret, taller than 20 meters (65 feet), disappeared.”
Twenty-six bodies were pulled from the rubble-strewn brown earth in nearby Lubuk Lawe and Jumena, but 618 bodies remained far beyond the reach of residents who worked without outside help because roads had been severed, he said.
The number of fatalities in the disaster will jump to more than 1,300 if all those people are confirmed dead. The government’s death toll on Saturday held steady at 715, most reported in the region’s badly hit capital of 900,000, Padang, where aid efforts are concentrated.