By Jalil Hamid
SOLOK, Indonesia (Reuters) – Aid began to flow on Wednesday to survivors of deadly earthquakes in Indonesia’s West Sumatra as rescue teams searched frantically for victims who may still be trapped beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings.
The disaster management agency said 72 people were killed by Tuesday’s two quakes, which were also felt in neighboring Singapore and Malaysia, but many more were injured and thousands spent a night in the open, frightened of further tremors.
On Wednesday, thousands of people in West Sumatra province, where the 6.4 magnitude quake and another measuring 6.3 were centered, were camped in tents outside their homes or in open fields.
“I was cold last night because I only slept on a mat, I did not have a tent. I am afraid there will be another quake,” said Soni Safmiwati, a 32-year-old mother of two who spent the night out in the open.
Many complained they had yet to receive any aid while others said they were too frightened to return to their homes.
“The main problem now is food supply. The government has not sent any food. We have to make do with whatever we have,” Rajudin Suwar, a 64-year-old pensioner who was one of 30 people crammed into a makeshift tent in worst-hit Solok town.
“The government has told us we cannot go back to our homes because of the fear of aftershocks.”
Rescue officials used heavy equipment to clear away the debris while some survivors used bare hands to cut through the rubble under which dozens were still feared to be trapped.
Rescuers amputated the arm of a man who lay crying and trapped under rubble for hours, but he later bled to death.
“We are still helping the victims today and are continuing field operations to work on the ruins of houses,” Syamsu Rahim, the mayor of Solok, said.
“We are still telling people to continue to be alert and not believe every rumor…so that they can start getting back to normal activities.”
Schools were closed indefinitely after the quakes, which killed two teachers in a school library.
Hospitals in some areas were overwhelmed with injured. Many people had fled their homes and fears of aftershocks pushed authorities in Padang, the West Sumatra provincial capital, to set up emergency tents at a soccer field.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who had been scheduled to visit Medan in North Sumatra on Wednesday to watch a harvest event and meet local leaders, would go instead to Solok in West Sumatra, state news agency Antara reported.
The government sent in the military and police to assist with rescue efforts while the Red Cross also deployed a rapid-response team to assess the damage and needs of victims.
Some residents in three badly hit areas — Solok, Tanah Datar and Padang Panjang — erected tents outside their damaged homes, moved in with relatives or spent the night in schools and mosques.
The government and Red Cross distributed food supplies such as cooking oil and rice, tents and medicine and drinking water.
The ministry of health had prepared six tones of food, porridge and biscuits for victims, Antara reported.
United Nations aid agencies said a team of health, sanitation and nutrition experts would arrive in the affected area “on the first available flight” to assess the situation.
Earthquakes are frequent in Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most-populous country. Its 17,000 islands sprawl along a belt of intense volcanic and seismic activity, part of what is called the “Pacific Ring of Fire.”
A quake in the Indian Ocean off Sumatra island in December 2004 and the tsunami it caused left about 170,000 people dead or missing in northern Aceh province.
In March 2005, an 8.7 magnitude quake killed hundreds on Nias island, off the west coast of northern Sumatra.
(Additional reporting by John Nedy in Padang; Mita Valina Liem and Johannes Mantiri in Jakarta)