Disease outbreaks feared as rescue efforts halted


Té / 6 October 2009

Health officials said they were trying to keep disease at bay in the aftermath of the powerful quake that hit Indonesia’s West Sumatra Province, as search and rescue efforts ground to a halt, IRIN said.

Heavy rain drenched parts of West Sumatra on 5 October, bringing fresh air to some but more misery to thousands of people still living without adequate shelter after the magnitude 7.6 earthquake.

"It’s good there’s rain because it will wipe out dust and the air will be cleaner. It’s a blessing," said Rustam Pakaya, head of the Health Ministry’s crisis centre.

Pakaya said the ministry was doing all it could to try to prevent outbreaks of diseases, including fumigation in quake-affected areas.

"We have sent medical teams to quake-hit areas to monitor the survivors and the condition of their environment," he said.

But Ridwan Gustiana of the Ibu Foundation, an Indonesian NGO working in quake-affected Padang Pariaman district to provide mobile clinics and counselling, warned that a lack of clean water and adequate shelter was making quake victims vulnerable to diseases such as diarrhoea.

"Access to clean water remains a problem. Aid supplies such as tents have not arrived, so people are surviving in what’s left of their damaged homes," Gustiana told IRIN.

"People don’t have adequate shelter and they risk suffering from respiratory problems, especially during the current rainy season," he said.

Rescue efforts largely halted

Rescuers are refocusing their efforts on survivors now that hopes of finding anyone alive under the rubble of destroyed buildings in the capital, Padang, were slim, officials said.

Most people missing in Padang city were buried under heavy concrete and it is unlikely they could survive for five days, said Priyadi Kardono, a spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA).

"The search has stopped for survivors in Padang. Rescuers are now removing rubble using heavy equipment to collect bodies," Kardono told IRIN.

"In some more remote areas, the search for survivors is continuing," he added.

Relatives of the missing tried to resign themselves to the fate of their loved ones as the rescue efforts wound down.

"They still haven’t found my son," said Nurkhusni, whose son was in Padang’s Ambacang hotel attending a seminar held by an insurance company with 80 other people.

"The rescue effort has been slow all along. But I guess it’s his fate. I’m letting him go," he said.

Buried in landslides

Meanwhile, the West Sumatra administration said it would not try to find up to 600 people buried when landslides triggered by the earthquake slammed into three hamlets in Padang Pariaman, practically turning the area into a mass grave.

"There is little possibility of finding survivors and we are prioritizing those with a higher chance of survival," said Dede Nuzul Putra, the provincial spokesman.

"The victims have been buried for more than five days, so it is unlikely they will survive," he said.

The official death toll from the 30 September earthquake stood at 608 on 5 October, according to the disaster relief coordination post at the West Sumatra governor’s office.

But officials said they feared the number could be higher as many people are believed to be still buried under the rubble of ruined buildings.

At least 343 people were listed as missing. A total of 178,671 homes were damaged and more than 88,300 homes and other buildings were destroyed by the quake, according to the NDMA.

The Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare, Aburizal Bakrie, said the government had earmarked six trillion rupiah (US$625 million) towards rebuilding funds for West Sumatra and 100 billion rupiah in emergency funds.

Half the six trillion rupiah will go towards repairing homes and providing basic necessities for the survivors.

Paul Vergès par Gilles Bojan

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