Aid arrives as Indonesia quake toll around 1,000

PADANG, Indonesia (Reuters) – Aid for thousands of survivors of an earthquake in Indonesia trickled in on Friday and international rescue teams set to work, but efforts were hampered by power blackouts and a shortage of heavy equipment.

The United Nations said more than 1,000 had been killed in and around Padang, a port city of 900,000 that sits atop one of the world’s most active seismic fault lines along the Pacific “Ring of Fire”. Thousands more were feared to be still trapped.

Overstretched rescuers dug through the rubble of schools and other buildings, occasionally locating survivors but mostly retrieving bodies. As darkness fell, floodlights were rigged up above shattered buildings so work could go on through the night.

“So far victims have received aid but we need to intensify it,” said Indonesian Red Cross chief Marie Muhammad. “There are still many roads cut off because of landslides.”

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono toured the disaster area and said $10 million in relief would be put to work fast.

“The 100 billion rupiah fund must flow, no more red tape. This is an emergency, the race is important,” Yudhoyono said.

Governments in Taiwan and the Philippines have come in for fierce criticism in recent weeks for a perceived slow response to disasters, but Jakarta-based political analyst Kevin O’Rourke said Yudhoyono was unlikely to suffer a similar backlash.

“Yudhoyono is the type of politician who tends to convey the type of image that people, I think, seek when these disasters happen,” said O’Rourke of the ex-general with a common touch.

A giant excavator donated by a cement company tore through piles of twisted iron and rubble, the wreckage of a three-storey college in Padang. Dozens of students were attending after-school lessons there when the quake struck on Wednesday with a force felt in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia.

“We have pulled out 38 children since the quake. Some of them, on the first day, were still alive, but the last few have all been dead,” said rescue team leader Suria who, like many Indonesians, uses just one name.

The UN humanitarian chief, John Holmes, told a news conference at UN Headquarters in New York that some 1,100 people had been killed in the 7.6 magnitude quake.

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