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U.S./World

Quake relief hampered

| Monday, Oct. 5, 2009

JUMANAK, Indonesia — Search teams lost hope of finding any more survivors under the rubble left by a huge earthquake, as torrential rains on Sunday held up aid delivery in the remote hills of western Indonesia where several villages were wiped out.

Rescue teams instead focused on retrieving the rotting bodies from the rubble of the magnitude 7.6 earthquake in Sumatra island, setting up tents for the tens of thousands of homeless and providing them food and drinking water.

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.

There is no clear word on the death toll. The United Nations put the figure at 1,100. The government earlier said 715 were dead and 3,000 were missing. But it revised the figure yesterday to 603 confirmed killed and 960 missing, presumably dead.

"With each passing day, the magnitude of the devastation grows," said Mark Fritzler, Save the Children aid group's Indonesia head.

"In addition to the threat of aftershocks, heavy rainfall has challenged our efforts, roads are cut off and we have no power in many areas, but relief workers are reaching families in the hardest hit areas," he said.

The missing include 644 people who were buried alive in four villages in the hills of Padang Pariaman district that were swept away by landslides caused by the quake. Among the victims were 200 to 300 guests at a wedding party in Jumanak village.

The restaurant where the party was being held was damaged but largely intact. A slice of the green wedding cake lay untouched on a plate, covered with flies. The guests were apparently killed when they ran outside as the ground began to tremble but were swept away by the landslide 40 yards (meters) away.

Iseh, a 15-year-old boy, said his sister, Ichi, was the bride. She, the groom and most of the guests were killed.

He said 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," Iseh, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, told The Associated Press.

"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.

Legions of aid workers, military personnel, police and volunteers finally reached the villages, bringing with them heavy earth moving equipment, relieving villagers who had been digging for the rotting corpses with bare hands while surrounded by the stench of death.

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