Aid reaches villagers deep in quake zone

October 7, 2009 1:43:28 PM PDT
Children swarmed into the streets clutching begging boxes and yelling "please help me" Wednesday as an aid convoy reached villages deep in Indonesia's quake zone. Relief workers slowly making their way up debris-tangled mountain roads to places largely cut off for a week since the Sept. 30 earthquake are still unveiling the true scale of the disaster.

In the provincial capital of Padang, the search for the dead and treatment of injuries have given way to clearing debris and trying to prevent disease outbreaks. In more remote areas, the situation remains more desperate.

Large parts of Padang city and nearby villages in West Sumatra province were destroyed by the quake. The official death toll is 704 but could reach into the thousands. About 180,000 buildings were flattened or severely damaged, Indonesia's Disaster Management Agency said.

Many villages were swept away by landslides in the hilly terrain north of Padang. Severed or badly damaged roads have been painstakingly cleared.

In Kampung Laweh, a village nestled between rice paddies and palm trees, house after house was completely toppled -- hundreds of them.

Survivors scrounged items from the rubble for shelter. A makeshift camp has sprung up for hundreds of people displaced from nearby hamlets, with scores sleeping in tents or on plastic sheets.

"I lost everything," said Yur, 42, a mother of six, as she crouched outside her house, which was crushed by a palm tree. "We are living on donations. We sleep in the neighbor's house. I'm scared the baby will get sick."

Only a trickle of aid had made it past the landslides on the narrow road to the region until Wednesday's convoy of Indonesian trucks arrived.

Children swarmed into the streets as the trucks drove into town, waving cardboard boxes they were using to collect donations, and crying for help.

The workers handed out bottled water and packets of instant noodles.

In neighboring Lubuk Laweh, an Associated Press photographer saw 10 bodies pulled from the rubble, including several children. Workers dug a shallow grave and offered prayers before burying them.

A Singaporean medical team was working around the clock in the closest town, Pariaman, conducting surgery by the light of desk lamps at the local hospital where the surgical lights weren't working.

"We are still seeing a lot of people with fractures coming down from the hills and we are also seeing more infected wounds," said team leader Dr. Mohamad Rosman bin Othman.

Aid workers from at least 20 countries are descending on West Sumatra, including the largest contingent of U.S. military in Indonesia since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

That disaster killed 230,000 in a dozen countries, roughly half in Aceh, another Sumatran province. The U.S. military's major role in the multinational relief effort improved America's standing here at a time of negative perceptions following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In Padang, aid flowed freely but the city still looked in parts like a demolition zone filled with collapsed buildings and heavy machinery.

In 2006, an earthquake that struck the central Javanese city of Yogyakarta killed more than 5,700.

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