With no outside help in sight, villagers used their bare hands Sunday to dig out rotting corpses, four days after landslides triggered by a huge earthquake obliterated four hamlets in western Indonesia.
Officials said at least 644 people were buried and presumed dead in the hillside villages in Padang Pariaman district on the western coast of Sumatra island. If confirmed it would raise the death toll in Wednesday’s 7.6-magnitude earthquake to more than 1,300, with about 3,000 missing.
The extent of the disaster in remote villages was only now becoming clear. So far, aid and rescue efforts have been concentrated in the region’s capital, Padang, a city of 900,000 people where several tall buildings collapsed.
But the quake was equally devastating in the hills of Pariaman, where entire hillsides were shaken loose, sending a cascade of mud, rocks and trees through at least four villages.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla said there was little hope of finding anyone alive.
“We can be sure that they are dead. So now we are waiting for burials,” he told reporters.
Where the villages once stood, there was only mud and broken palm trees -- the mountainsides appeared gouged bare as if by a gigantic backhoe.
The villages “were sucked 30 meters (100 feet) deep into the earth,” said Rustam Pakaya, the head of Indonesia’s Health Ministry crisis centre. “Even the mosque’s minaret, taller than 20 meters (65 feet), disappeared.”
In Jumanak village, some 200 to 300 wedding guests at a restaurant were buried alive, including the bride, her 15-year-old brother, Iseh, told The Associated Press.
He said his sister Ichi, 19, had come back to the village for her wedding.
“When the landslide came, the party had just finished. I heard a big boom of the avalanche. I ran outside and saw the trees fall down,” said Iseh, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.
“I tried to get in front of the house with my brothers. We were so afraid. Landslides started coming from all directions. I just ran and then I waited,” he said.
Iseh says he knows of only 10 people from the village who survived. He doesn’t know the fate of his parents or brothers.
The adjacent villages of Pulau Aiya, Lubuk Lawe and Limo Koto Timur were also swept away.
Survivors in the area said no government aid or search teams had arrived, even four days after the quake. Only about 20 local policemen had come with a power shovel and body bags.
“My relatives were all killed, washed away by the landslide,” said Dola Jambak, a 48-year-old trader, picking through the rubble of his house. “I lost seven relatives. Now all I can do is wait for the search teams. But they don’t come.”
The landslides cut off all roads, and the villages were accessible only by foot. An AP team reached Jumanak after walking about four miles (six kilometers) for 1 1/2 hours.
Villagers gathered as men used their bare hands to slowly and cautiously pull corpses from a tangle of roots and grit. The bodies were bloated and mutilated, some unrecognizable. One man’s body was found because his hand was sticking out of the mud.
Women wept silently as bodies were placed in bright yellow bags.
Aid also had not reached Agam district, which is much closer to Padang.
Laila, a villager in Agam district, said she and hundreds of others had no food, clothes and clean water.
“Our house is gone ... everything is gone,” she sobbed.
She said a helicopter dropped some instant noodle packets Saturday. “But we need clean water to cook it,” said Laila, who also uses one name. She said the local river had become dirty as people were using it wash.
In Padang, rescuers have all but given up hope of finding any survivors in the rubble of the 140-room, Dutch-colonial style Ambacang Hotel. Some 200 people were in the hotel when it collapsed. Search teams have found 29 bodies so far, and no one alive.
“After four days ... to find survivors is almost impossible,” said Lt. Col. Harris, the chief of the 50—member rescue team, which comprises military, police and Red Cross personnel. “The smell of decomposing bodies is very strong,” said Harris, who uses one name.
According to the National Disaster Management Agency, 83,712 houses, 200 public buildings and 285 schools were destroyed. Another 100,000 buildings and 20 miles (31 kilometers) of road were badly damaged, and five bridges had collapsed.
Meanwhile, hundreds of doctors, nurses, search and rescue experts and cleanup crews arrived Saturday at the Padang airport from around the world with tons of food, tents, medicine, clean water, generators and a field hospital.
But with no electricity, fuel shortages and telecommunication outages, the massive operation was chaotic.
Deliveries came on C-130 cargo planes from the United States, Russia and Australia. Japanese, Swiss, South Korean and Malaysian search and rescue teams scoured the debris. Tens of millions of dollars in donations came from more than a dozen countries to supplement $400 million the Indonesian government said it would spend over the next two months.
The U.N. said there are sufficient fuel stocks in the area for four days, but with the road to a major depot cut off by landslides, gasoline prices had jumped six-fold.
Areas with “huge levels of damage to infrastructure were in need of basic food and tents for temporary shelter,” it said.
Wednesday’s quake originated on the same fault line that spawned the 2004 Asian tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen nations.
On Sunday, a 5.5-magnitude earthquake shook the eastern province of West Papua, the U.S. Geological Survey said. There were no reports of casualties. The quake’s epicenter was 128 kilometers (80 kilometers) northwest of the provincial capital of Manokawar, the only major centre of inhabitation. The region is about 3,500 kilometers (2160 miles) from Sumatra.