Heavy rains hold up search for rotting bodies

JUMANAK: Heavy rains hampered search teams Sunday in the hills of western Indonesia where hundreds of people were buried alive in landslides triggered by a massive earthquake that wiped out four villages.

Officials said at least 644 people were buried and presumed dead in the hillside villages in Padang Pariaman district on the western coast of Sumatra island.

Aid and rescue efforts have been concentrated in the region’s capital, Padang, a coastal city of 900,000 people where several tall buildings collapsed and hundreds died.

But the quake was equally devastating in Pariaman, where entire hillsides were shaken loose, sending down a cascade of mud, rocks and trees. Hordes of aid workers, military personnel, police and volunteers carrying heavy earth-moving equipment finally arrived Sunday to relieve residents who had been digging for corpses with their bare hands.

Women wept silently as bodies were placed in bright yellow bags.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla said there was little hope of finding anyone alive.

“We can be sure that they are dead. So now we are waiting for burials,” he told reporters.

There is no clear word on the total death toll from Wednesday’s 7.6-magnitude quake. The United Nations put the toll at 1,100. The government earlier said 715 were dead and 3,000 missing. But it revised the figure Sunday to say 603 people are confirmed dead and 960 missing, presumed dead. The missing include the people buried in the landslides.

Where the four villages once stood in Pariaman, there was only mud and broken palm trees - the mountainsides appeared gouged bare as if by a gigantic backhoe.

The villages “were sucked 30 meters (100 feet) deep into the earth,” said Rustam Pakaya, the head of Indonesia’s Health Ministry crisis centre. “Even the mosque’s minaret, taller than 20 meters (65 feet), disappeared.” In Jumanak village, some 200 to 300 wedding guests at a restaurant were buried alive, including the bride, her 15-year-old brother, Iseh, told The Associated Press.

He said his sister Ichi, 19, had come back to the village for her wedding.

“When the landslide came, the party had just finished. I heard a big boom of the avalanche. I ran outside and saw the trees fall down,” said Iseh, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.

“I tried to get in front of the house with my brothers. We were so afraid. Landslides started coming from all directions. I just ran and then I waited,” he said.

Iseh says he knows of only 10 people from the village who survived. He doesn’t know the fate of his parents or brothers.

The adjacent villages of Pulau Aiya, Lubuk Lawe and Limo Koto Timur were also swept away.

By mid-afternoon Sunday, a heavy downpour lashed the area, raising fears of a fresh landslide. The police ordered everybody to evacuate.

The villages were accessible only by foot as landslides cut off all roads. An AP team reached Jumanak after walking about four miles (six kilometres) for 1 1/2 hours.

In Agam district, which is much closer to Padang, a villager said she and hundreds of others had no food, clothes and clean water.

“Our house is gone ... everything is gone,” sobbed Laila.

She said a helicopter dropped some instant noodle packets on Saturday. “But we need clean water to cook it,” she said, adding that the local river had become dirty as people were using it to wash.

In Padang, rescuers have all but given up hope of finding any survivors in the rubble of the 140-room, Dutch-colonial style Ambacang Hotel. Some 200 people were in the hotel when it collapsed. Search teams have found 29 bodies so far.

Quake strikes off the Philippines

MANILA: A 6.6-magnitude earthquake struck off the Philippines on Sunday, seismologists said, but at 630 km below the seabed it was considered extremely deep and no destructive tsunami was expected. The quake hit in the Moro Gulf, off Mindanao, at 1058 GMT, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries and the Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said it did not expect a destructive tsunami. The epicentre was 100 kilometres southwest of Cotabato. — AFP

Taiwan issues typhoon warning

TAIPEI: Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau on Sunday warned that Typhoon Parma may be approaching the island, bringing torrential rain, after battering the northern Philippines.

The bureau said the weather system, packing winds of up to 119 kilometres per hour and gusts of up to 155 kph, was expected to bring strong winds and rain of up to 32 inches as it made a slow approach north. A bureau official told AFP however that the weather system had made little progress towards Taiwan in last few hours and it’s strength remained unchanged.

The typhoon was 300 km south-west of Oluanpi — the southernmost tip of Taiwan — at 1000 GMT and was predicted to circle the Bashi Channel that separates Taiwan and the Philippines. “The typhoon is forecast to move along the (northern) track until tomorrow night and then turn southwest,” the official said. “In the next 2 to 3 days, the typhoon may hover around the Bashi Channel,” he said. - AFP