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Rain, landslides threaten Indonesian quake victims

HEAVY rain threatened to trigger more landslides and hamper delivery of desperately needed aid today on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where thousands of people were buried by last week's powerful earthquake.

The Meteorological and Geophysics Agency warned that remote areas could see strong winds and storms for the next two days, worsening the plight for those made homeless and creating dangerous conditions on roads already blocked by mud and felled trees.

Satellite images showed continuing moderate to heavy rain in west Sumatra province, which was struck by a 7.6-magnitude quake Wednesday.

"Bad weather could hamper the evacuation of earthquake victims," said agency spokesman Hari Tirto. "People who live around the hills should remain alert for potential landslides, due to the high intensity of rain."

Relief crews were confined to the regional capital of Padang because of bad weather.

Many outlying areas with extensive damage still have not received help. Power remained cut off, and roads to villages were blocked by landslides, preventing foreign aid from getting through.

It was unclear precisely how many people were without shelter today, but more than 83,000 houses were destroyed or badly damaged in 10 affected districts, according to Indonesia's Disaster Management Agency. Some 285 schools were destroyed and 100,000 buildings and 20 miles (31 kilometers) of road were badly damaged. Five bridges collapsed.

Teams were scrambling to clear roads of dirt, boulders and trees. Several villages were only reachable by foot, although some heavy equipment was on the way.

In hard-hit Padang, hundreds of children went back to class today in schools set up in tents as authorities tried to restore normalcy. UNICEF provided tents and basic supplies for schools in three of 10 affected districts.

The resumption of classes was largely symbolic, giving just a few hundred children an opportunity to meet with teachers and receive counseling to process the trauma of recent days, including the deaths of relatives and being made homeless.

"The government has called for classes to resume as soon as possible so they can create some normalcy," said Amson Simbolon, an education officer for UNICEF, as math classes began for around 300 students at one badly damaged school in Padang.

The agency has provided 15 tents, each with room for 50 to 60 children, and is shipping another 220 by boat from the capital of Jakarta, he said.

There is no clear word on the death toll. The United Nations put the figure at 1,100. The government earlier said 715 were dead and 3,000 were missing. But it revised the figure yesterday to 603 confirmed killed and 960 missing, presumably dead.

Among the missing are more than 600 who were buried alive in landslides in four villages in the hills of Padang Pariaman district. The victims included 200 to 300 guests at a wedding party in Jumanak village.

The restaurant where the party was being held was damaged but largely intact. A slice of the green wedding cake lay untouched on a plate, covered with flies. The guests were apparently killed when they ran outside as the ground began to tremble but were swept away by the landslide 40 yards (meters) away.

Iseh, a 15-year-old boy, said his sister, Ichi, was the bride. She, the groom and most of the guests were killed.

He said 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," Iseh, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, told The Associated Press.

"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.

Yesterday, hordes of aid workers, military personnel, police and volunteers finally reached the villages, bringing with them heavy earth moving equipment, relieving villagers who had been digging for the rotting corpses with bare hands while surrounded by the stench of death.

But by yesterday afternoon heavy downpours lashed the area, raising fears of fresh landslides. Police ordered all residents, aid workers, journalists and volunteers to leave. The exodus - on motorcycles, cars and trucks - caused a massive traffic jam on the two-lane road to Padang.


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