Rescue workers call off search operations

PADANG:Rescue workers called off

the search today for life under the rubble left by a

massive earthquake, focusing instead on bringing aid to survivors in the towns

and hills of western Indonesia, despite being hampered by torrential rains. “The chances of survival while trapped without water and food under the rubble for

so long are impossible

from now,” said Gagah Prakoso, a spokesman for the Indonesian Search and Rescue Agency. “So we will speed up our search to find bodies and clean up the ruins with bulldozers.”

The death toll from Wednesday’s 7.6-magnitude temblor in Sumatra island is expected to be in the thousands once the missing people are declared dead. The U.N. has said 1,100 people died, while the government puts the toll at 603. Ignacio Leon, the head of the U.N.’s humanitarian agency in Indonesia, told the AP that the focus has now shifted away from finding survivors and “we are supporting the government now more in the relief side.” The undersea quake devastated 10 districts in the Western Sumatra province including the capital, Padang, a city of 900,000 people where scores of tall buildings, including hotels, a mall, mosques and schools came down crashing.

In addition, the quake triggered huge landslides in the hills of Pariaman district where entire villages were wiped out. Hiroaki Sano, head of the Japan Disaster Rescue Team, told the AP that international search and rescue teams were winding up operations and preparing to go back home. “We got here quickly but we haven’t found any survivors. The first 100 hours are crucial,” he said. Government minister Aburizal Bakrie told reporters that $600 million was needed to repair infrastructure. It had initially said $400 million was needed, but raised the estimate after the scale of the disaster became clear. Little aid has reached the remote communities in Pariaman as many roads and bridges were destroyed. Landslides also blocked many of the roads leading to villages and an AP crew saw aid workers scrambling to clear the road of dirt, boulders and trees. One road ended at Kampung Dalam village. The rest of the way had caved in, forcing rescue teams from South Korea, France and Germany to camp there. Villages further up the road were now accessible only by foot.

Heavy rain since last night triggered a landslide on Monday but no casualties were reported, according to Prakoso, the rescue agency spokesman. Still, most aid teams were forced to stay put in Padang because of

the rain. He said the downpour and thick wet mud

is making it “difficult for

us to reach areas in need of aid.” Authorities are using helicopters to airdrop aid and bring the wounded to hospitals, he said. Two helicopters have conducted six airdrops in isolated areas so far, delivering instant noodles, blankets, milk and dry food, he said.

The Meteorological and Geophysics Agency

warned the region could see strong winds and storms

for the next two days. “People who live around the

hills should remain alert for potential landslides, due to the high intensity of rain,” said the agency’s spokesman, Hari Tirto.