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Indonesia calls off search for missing survivors

Indonesia calls off search for missing survivors

Rescue workers called off the search Monday for life under the rubble left by a massive earthquake, focusing instead on bringing aid to survivors in the towns and hills of western Indonesia, despite being hampered by torrential rains.
"After all this time I consider, from various experiences, it will be difficult to find more people alive," Ignacio Leon, the head of the U.N.'s humanitarian agency in Indonesia, told The Associated Press.
"I don't want to cut the hope of the people, but the focus will shift and we are supporting the government now more in the relief side," he said.
The death toll from Wednesday's temblor in Sumatra island is expected to be in the thousands once the missing people are declared dead. The U.N. has said 1,100 people died, while the government puts the toll at 603.
Leon would not categorically say the search and rescue operation was called off, but other teams confirmed that was the case.
Hiroaki Sano, head of the Japan Disaster Rescue Team, told the AP that officials of the U.N. and the Indonesian government discussed international assistance and "agreed no further assistance is needed for search and rescues."
"We got here quickly but we haven't found any survivors. The first 100 hours are crucial," he said.
International search and rescue teams were winding up operations and preparing to go back home as there was little hope of finding any survivors, he said.
"They believe we should switch from emergency searches to the rebuilding stage," Sano said. International aid teams will continue to provide food and other humanitarian assistance, he said.
Government minister Aburizal Bakrie told reporters that $600 million was needed to repair homes, schools, mosques, roads and other basic infrastructure damaged by the magnitude 7.6 earthquake.
It had initially said $400 million was needed, but raised the estimate after the scale of the disaster became clear.
The undersea quake devastated 10 districts in the Western Sumatra province including the capital, Padang, a city of 900,000 people where scores of tall buildings, including hotels, a mall, mosques and schools came down crashing. In addition, the quake triggered huge landslides in the hills of Pariaman district where entire villages were wiped out.
Little aid has reached the remote communities as many roads and bridges were destroyed. Landslides also blocked many of the roads leading to villages and an AP crew saw aid workers scrambling to clear the road of dirt, boulders and trees.
One road ended at Kampung Dalam village. The rest of the way had caved in, forcing rescue teams from South Korea, France and Germany to camp there. Villages further up the road were now accessible only by foot.
Heavy rain since Sunday night threatened to trigger more landslides and hamper delivery of aid as most aid teams were forced to stay put in Padang.
Sano said the rain hasn't affected the operations too much in the city but was more of a factor in the surrounding areas.
"If it continues it would definitely affect the lives of the victims and make it for the Indonesians to conduct operations," he said.
The Meteorological and Geophysics Agency warned the region could see strong winds and storms for the next two days.
"People who live around the hills should remain alert for potential landslides, due to the high intensity of rain," said the agency's spokesman, Hari Tirto.
It was unclear precisely how many people were without shelter Monday, but more than 88,000 houses and 285 schools were flattened in 10 affected districts, according to the U.N. and Indonesia's Disaster Management Agency.
Another 100,000 public buildings and 20 miles (31 kilometers) of road were damaged.
In Padang, hundreds of children went back to class Monday in schools set up in tents as authorities tried to restore normalcy. UNICEF provided tents and basic supplies for schools in three of 10 affected districts.
The resumption of classes was largely symbolic, giving just a few hundred children an opportunity to meet with teachers and receive counseling to process the trauma of recent days, including the deaths of relatives and being made homeless.
"The government has called for classes to resume as soon as possible so they can create some normalcy," said Amson Simbolon, a UNICEF education officer, as math classes began for around 300 students at one badly damaged school in Padang.
The agency has provided 15 tents, each with room for 50 to 60 children, and is shipping another 220 by boat from the capital of Jakarta, he said.
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Associated Press writers Anthony Deutsch and Vijay Joshi in Jakarta contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-10-21 19:21 GMT+08:00