'Thousands Killed' as Second Quake Strikes Indonesia; SUMATRA

Article excerpt

Byline: Rashid Razaq

A MAJOR rescue operation was under way in Indonesia today after two powerful earthquakes in 48 hours wrought devastation in which thousands are feared dead.

As survivors were being pulled from the rubble of collapsed buildings in the coastal city of Padang, Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono warned the country to be "prepared for the worst".

The death toll has reached 529 but officials expect it to rise dramatically. At least 440 people have been reported seriously injured.

The British ambassador to Indonesia Martin Hatfull said that there were no reports of British casualties.

The brunt of yesterday's 7.6-magnitude earthquake, which originated in the sea off Sumatra island, appeared to have been borne by the city of 900,000 people.

A 6.8-magnitude quake struck the same region this morning as rescuers battled under heavy rain to help people trapped under the rubble.

More than 500 buildings, including hotels, schools, hospitals and a shopping centre, have been destroyed or damaged. At one school, six children were pulled out alive but four others were found dead. Rustam Pakaya, head of the Indonesian health ministry's crisis centre, said thousands are feared to have been killed.

Padang's main hospital, the state-run M. Djamil Hospital, has been overwhelmed by the influx of victims and families. Dozens of injured people were being treated under tents outside the hospital, which was itself partly damaged.

Speaking from the Indonesian capital Jakarta the president, who was travelling to Padang today, said: "Let's not underestimate [the disaster]. Let's be prepared for the worst. We will do everything we can to help the victims."

The president also ordered the military to deploy all its crisis centres in Jakarta, West Sumatra and North Sumatra provinces and said it will provide earth-moving equipment to clear the rubble.

An aid worker narrowly escaped death when he fled Padang's Ambacang Hotel minutes before it collapsed. David Lange, program director for New Zealand-based medical aid group SurfAid, said following his escape: "People are trapped and screaming for help but they are below huge slabs which will take heavy equipment to move. …