3,000 still missing in Indonesia earthquake

PADING:Ratna Kurniasari Virgo lay surrounded by death for 40 hours - trapped with a broken leg between the collapsed walls of her college and the bodies of her dead friends.

Her rescue yesterday was a rare tale of survival two days after a massive Indonesian earthquake killed at least 715 people and left nearly 3,000 missing under the rubble of tens of thousands of buildings.

The wail of ambulances and the stench of decomposing bodies met volunteers from dozens of relief agencies yesterday as they poured into the worst-hit area around the regional capital of Padang.

Block after block of toppled hotels, hospitals, office buildings and schools had yet to be searched and dozens of unclaimed corpses were laid out in the scorching sun at Dr M Djamil General Hospital, Padang’’s biggest, which was damaged in the quake.

Wednesday’’s 7.6 magnitude temblor devastated a stretch of more than 100 km along the western coast of Sumatra island, prompting a massive international aid operation in a country where earthquakes have taken a huge human toll in recent years.

The United Nations estimates that the death toll from this quake could rise to 1,100. More than 20,000 houses and buildings were destroyed and 2,400 people hospitalised across seven districts, said Priyadi Kardono, a spokesman for the national disaster agency.

Fuel was being rationed amid a power outage, water and food were in short supply and villagers dug out the dead with their bare hands, witnesses and aid agencies said.

Contrasting that grim picture of grief and destruction, 19-year-old Virgo, an English major sophomore, was found alive under the rubble of her college in Padang, the Foreign Language School of Prayoga.

“Her dead friends were beneath and above her. Fortunately, she was able to withstand the stench for 40 hours,” said Dubel Mereyenes, the doctor who treated her. “She has a severely injured leg, but we will try to avoid amputation.” Another survivor was a teacher at the same school, Suci Ravika Wulan Sari, who was extracted from the debris almost exactly 48 hours after the college crumbled in the 5:16 pm quake, killing dozens of students.

“She was conscious. Only her legs and fingers are swollen because she was squeezed,” said the institute’’s director, Teresia Lianawaty. “Thank God! It is a miracle.” Elsewhere in the city, at the site of the former Ambacang Hotel where as many as 200 were feared trapped, rescue workers detected signs of life under a hill of tangled steel, concrete slabs and broken bricks of the five-story structure, said Gagah Prakosa, a spokesman of the rescue team.

“We heard some voices of people under the rubble, but as you can see the damage is making it very difficult to extricate them,” Prakosa said, as a backhoe cleared the debris noisily.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla told reporters in the capital, Jakarta, that the recovery operation would cost at least $400 million. Military and commercial planes shuttled in tons of emergency supplies, although rural areas remained cut off from help due to landslides.