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Heavy rains in Indonesia hold up rescue efforts as the death toll rises

A woman washes her clothes in a stream as running water is still not available to many on Sunday in Padang, Indonesia, four days after Wednesday’s 7.6-magnitude quake that toppled thousands of buildings on Sumatra island.

Associated Press

A woman washes her clothes in a stream as running water is still not available to many on Sunday in Padang, Indonesia, four days after Wednesday’s 7.6-magnitude quake that toppled thousands of buildings on Sumatra island.

JUMANAK, Indonesia — Search teams lost hope of finding any more survivors under the rubble left by a massive earthquake, as torrential rains on Sunday held up aid delivery in the remote hills of western Indonesia where several villages were wiped out.

Rescue teams instead focused on retrieving bodies from the rubble of the magnitude 7.6 earthquake in Sumatra island, setting up tents for the tens of thousands of homeless and providing them food and drinking water.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla said there was little hope of finding anyone alive.

"We can be sure that they are dead. So now we are waiting for burials," he told reporters.

There is no clear word on the death toll. The United Nations put the figure at 1,100. The government said Sunday that 603 were confirmed killed and 960 missing, presumably dead.

"With each passing day, the magnitude of the devastation grows," said Mark Fritzler, Save the Children aid group's Indonesia head.

"In addition to the threat of aftershocks, heavy rainfall has challenged our efforts, roads are cut off and we have no power in many areas, but relief workers are reaching families in the hardest hit areas," he said.

The missing include 644 people who were buried alive in four villages in the hills of Padang Pariaman district that were swept away by landslides caused by the quake. Among the victims were 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 away.

On Sunday, 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 corpses with bare hands.

But by early afternoon a heavy downpour lashed the area, raising fears of fresh landslides. Police ordered all residents, aid workers, journalists and volunteers to leave.

According to the National Disaster Management Agency, 83,712 houses, 200 public buildings and 285 schools were destroyed. Another 100,000 buildings and 20 miles of road were badly damaged, and five bridges collapsed.

Heavy rains in Indonesia hold up rescue efforts as the death toll rises 10/04/09 [Last modified: Sunday, October 4, 2009 11:14pm]

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