Tragic end to quest for near and dear ones

PADANG: Mass graves were designated in Indonesia today as villagers gave up hope of finding loved ones buried alive in landslides triggered by last week’s 7.6-magnitude earthquake.

In Malalak, about 120 km north of Padang, West Sumatra, grieving villagers, religious leaders and officials agreed to stop looking for 40 people buried in landslides and declare the areas mass graves. “There were 30 bodies retrieved from the landslide while another 40 people were still buried under the rubble and mud,” West Sumatra military chief Colonel Mulyono said.

More than 210 bodies are believed to be interred beneath massive landslides that obliterated three villages in Padang Pariaman district, about 20 kilometres northwest of Padang, he said.

Another 144 bodies have already been retrieved from the area and the search operation there was continuing as relatives had not agreed to declare the area a mass grave.

“As there’s no agreement yet to stop the search operation, so the rescuers from the military will continue to work with maximum effort,” Mulyono said. The official toll from the September 30 quake climbed by 35 to 739, according to the Indonesian disaster management agency.

The Red Cross, which believes the toll will eventually reach more than 3,000 once all the dead and missing are counted, increased its aid appeal to $18.5 million to help about 100,000 people especially in villages. At the collapsed Ambacang hotel in central Padang, 41 people were confirmed to have died and 34 bodies were still buried under the rubble, out of 192 people registered in the hotel when the quake struck, Mulyono said.

Provincial official Dody Ruswandi said it would take up to two weeks to finish demolishing and clearing the collapsed buildings from the city.

Aid was flowing into Padang and out into surrounding villages as work began to clear the rubble of collapsed buildings from the city of a million people. “We are especially concerned about getting aid to remote villages,” said Bob McKerrow, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ (IFRC) office in Indonesia.

Villagers were reportedly blocking roads to stop relief trucks, following disruptions in normal deliveries to commercial markets in rural areas, the federation added in a