Foreign rescue teams leave quake-hit Indonesia city

PADANG, Indonesia Wed Oct 7, 2009 9:22am EDT

1 of 21. A soldier stands guard in front of the Ambacang hotel which collapsed during an earthquake in Padang, West Sumatra province October 7, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Nicky Loh

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PADANG, Indonesia (Reuters) - Relief workers struggled to reach Indonesian quake survivors still without food or shelter a week after the disaster, while foreign rescue teams packed up their high-tech equipment on Wednesday and prepared to pull out.

Aid has been pouring into the shattered West Sumatran city of Padang since the September 30 earthquake, but the scale of the disaster, heavy rain and damaged infrastructure have meant it has been slow to reach outlying areas.

Helicopters are often the only way that some communities in the hills around Padang can be easily reached after landslides triggered by the 7.6 magnitude quake severed roads.

"I'm now living in a tent. We have not received any aid. I'm very upset with the local government. I see aid but it passed us by," said a visibly emotional Ardi, 31, from Lubuk Laweh, an area outside Padang that was devastated by landslides.

The father-of-four said he had lost an 8-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son in the landslide, which cut a deadly path through the village leaving only a huge wall of mud and debris.

Work using heavy equipment to bring down half-collapsed buildings in Padang, a port city of 900,000, continued, despite fears many bodies may still be under the rubble.

There was a brief moment of hope on Tuesday when workers thought they had heard a woman crying for help under the rubble of the collapsed Dutch-colonial era Ambacang hotel. But an Australian rescue team later turned up nothing.

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

SAVED BY A COFFEE

Ghazali, 28, described his lucky escape after he had been taking part in a training program with 40 people for insurance firm Prudential at the Ambacang on the day of the quake.

The trainee insurance agent, who is staying with relatives, said he briefly left the hotel to buy a coffee in a cafe across the street because the hotel drinks were too pricey for him.

"I sat down and the hotel collapsed," he said, adding that he had been too shocked since to tell authorities he was safe.

For many others, the hope of finding even the bodies of their loved ones was all they could cling to.

"I know they are probably dead and I accept it but I am still praying that at least their bodies can be found and identified," said Arief Fauzi, 36, in Kepala Koto, a village devastated by a landslide where the stench of dead bodies hangs in the air.

Fauzi lost his parents and 13 other relatives, including a sister, aunts, uncles, cousins and nephews, and has been waiting at a tent for more news with remaining family members.

Only the bodies of his parents and sister have been found.

Outside the tent, photographs of his dead relatives are pinned up, taken during a happier period.

The regional Islamic council has issued a religious decree allowing the landslide areas to be declared mass graves.

More rescue teams from countries including South Korea, Singapore and Britain were starting to pack up and leave their base in the governor's house in Padang, as even the faint hope of finding more survivors in buildings reduced to rubble faded.

John Bugge, a spokesman for the charity Save the Children, said pneumonia was a key risk now, particularly for children lacking food and shelter in scattered communities around Padang.

Some schools have reopened, but according to UNICEF about 1,000 have collapsed or been damaged so some temporary centers in tents have been set up for traumatized children to play and draw.

"I am still scared that there may be more earthquakes and so I told my mother that we must never sleep inside our house again because it could collapse," said Yuhza Indra, 11, who was at a temporary center in Desa Bungus Timur on the outskirts of Padang.

(Additional reporting by Dylan Martinez in Padang and Olivia Rondonuwu and Retno Palupi in Jakarta; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Sugita Katyal)