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October 2, 2009

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Fatality toll from Indonesian quake could run to thousands

RESCUE teams struggled yesterday to reach scores of people trapped under debris, and survivors pleaded for aid after a powerful quake hit the Indonesian city of Padang, possibly killing thousands.

Late yesterday, the number of confirmed deaths was 531, according to the social ministry.

The 7.6 magnitude quake struck the bustling port city of 900,000 people on Wednesday, toppling hundreds of buildings. Telephone connections were patchy, making it hard for officials to work out the extent of destruction and loss of life.

"I have been through quakes here before and this was the worst. There is blood everywhere, people with their limbs cut off. We saw buildings collapsed, people dying," said American Greg Hunt, 38, who was at Padang airport.

A Reuters reporter in the city said rescuers were pulling people from buildings, but there was little sign of much aid being distributed yet.

Fuel was also in short supply, and there was a report of looting, while some shops had run out of food.

Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari told reporters at an airport in Jakarta before leaving for Padang that the number of dead could number in the thousands, given the widespread damage.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who arrived back from the G20 meeting yesterday, told reporters the country could coordinate the relief efforts but welcomed help from abroad. Australia, South Korea and Japan were among nations offering aid.

Two Indonesian Hercules transport planes carrying medical aid, as well as 20,000 tents and 10,000 blankets, also flew to Padang yesterday, the state Antara news agency reported.

Heavy rain initially hampered rescue efforts, and officials said power had been cut in Padang, which lies on a coastal plain and is surrounded by steep mountains that stretch far inland.

Damage to roads had affected transport of rubber in West Sumatra, the fifth-largest producing province for rubber in Indonesia.


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