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October 7, 2009

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Disease worries after earthquake

HEALTH workers doused the Indonesian city of Padang with disinfectant to ward off disease outbreaks, and helicopters dropped aid to survivors six days after a devastating earthquake.

The rescue mission in the port city of 900,000, and in surrounding hills ravaged by landslides, has been all but abandoned for a relief effort to help thousands of homeless.

Indonesia's official toll from the quake is 704 dead and 295 missing, but the health minister said it could reach 3,000.

There was a brief moment of hope when workers reportedly heard a woman crying for help under the rubble of the collapsed Dutch-colonial era Ambacang hotel. But an Indonesian commander at the site said an Australian rescue team had turned up nothing and work to demolish the former city landmark resumed.

Aid is pouring in, but the scale of the disaster, heavy rains and road damage mean long delays before it reaches survivors.

Since the quake, villagers have told Reuters correspondents in a number of areas little if any aid had arrived.

"It is difficult to get water because it is being contaminated," said Agus, a resident in the Padang Alai area in the hills outside Padang.

"There is no electricity and it is difficult for us to get food and medicine."

Metro TV showed survivors scrabbling for food aid boxes dropped by helicopters and Red Cross helicopters were also bringing medical personnel to some remote areas.

The aerial view from onboard a Red Cross helicopter revealed utter devastation and huge scars of brown where landslides had torn away lush green hills and paddy fields.

"The immediate needs are to get food to people who are still cut off, still isolated in settlements up in the hills," said Patrick Fuller, a spokesman for the Red Cross, adding that some areas were only reachable by foot or helicopter.


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