Padang, Indonesia — Across this coastal provincial capital, hardest hit by the latest earthquake to devastate Indonesia, mourners, survivors and rescue workers alike clawed through heaps of concrete in searches for thousands still missing.
Some, like Malina, had already realized the worst. She was just looking for the shoes missing from her dead daughter’s body, found in the rubble of a four-story school that was flattened within seconds. Like many Indonesians, she goes by one name.
As the death toll climbed Thursday — to 1,100 by one U.N. estimate — others looked for survivors, with thousands of people missing and feared trapped in the wreckage of shattered buildings.
When search efforts were suspended for the night, an eerie quiet fell over the city of 900,000.
“Let’s not underestimate. Let’s be prepared for the worst,” President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said in the capital, Jakarta.
Wednesday’s 7.6-magnitude earthquake started at sea and quickly rippled through Sumatra, the westernmost island in the Indonesian archipelago.
Government figures put the number of dead at 777, with nearly 2,100 people seriously injured. John Holmes, the U.N.’s humanitarian chief, set the death toll at 1,100, and the number was expected to grow.
President Barack Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, pledged to support earthquake recovery efforts there, as well as provide assistance to the South Pacific countries of Samoa and American Samoa, which were hit by a deadly tsunami Tuesday. The United States pledged $3 million in immediate assistance.
Most of the confirmed deaths in Indonesia were reported in Padang, where more than 500 buildings were severely damaged or flattened.
Where a mall once stood was a heap of concrete slabs layered like pancakes with iron rods jutting out. Police and army rescue teams used bulldozers, backhoes and electric drills to clear the wreckage in intermittent rain, or climbed the hills of rubble to dislodge pieces of concrete with bare hands.
The rescue operation was being hampered by a lack of heavy digging equipment, said Priyadi Kardono, a spokesman for the Disaster Management Agency. Japan, Switzerland and Singapore were providing support and backhoes were to arrive at the scene today.
Relatives of the missing gathered outside ruined buildings, hoping to hear good news. But mostly, the rescuers found bodies.
Occasionally, they saved lives.
A Singaporean, John Lee, was pulled alive from the Maryani hotel after surviving under the rubble for 25 hours. Rescue workers, responding to his cries for help, dug for 12 hours to free him. Lee suffered only a broken leg.
One of the hospitals in the town had collapsed completely while the state-run Djamil Hospital was partly damaged — its walls cracked and windows broken. Staff at the hospital treated the injured in tents set up in the open. In another area, yellow body bags were laid out in rows.