No tractors were available to move the rubble that was their office building before Wednesday’s mighty earthquake felled this modest port city, so workers started digging feverishly with their bare hands.
“My friend is still trapped inside,” said a 20-year-old named Yudi. He had been making photocopies in the building when he felt the first tremors of the 7.6-magnitude quake shortly after 5 p.m. here on Wednesday.
“I ran outside as fast I could,” said Yudi, who, like many Indonesians, uses only one name. “Everyone was panicking, trying to save themselves. But some of us didn’t make it out.”
Throughout a chaotic Thursday in Padang, rescue workers, soldiers and frantic residents worked together into the night with precious little earth-moving equipment or electricity, searching crushed offices, hotels, hospitals and schools for survivors.
The death toll rose to 1,100 people on Thursday, with many hundreds more injured, according to John Holmes, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator, speaking at a news conference at the United Nations.
“I fear these numbers will rise as more information becomes available,” Holmes said.
On Thursday morning, just as the city’s airport was reopening and rescue teams were setting to work, Padang was rattled by another earthquake, this one registering 6.6. This second quake, which hit about 150 miles south of Padang, damaged hundreds of buildings in the nearby town of Jambi, officials said. There were no reports of casualties so far from the second temblor, Holmes said.
More than a day after the first quake, residents here became increasingly desperate for information about their missing relatives, crowding to view lists of the dead and injured that were posted at hospitals.
At what remained of the city’s largest hospital, the Dr. M. Djamil Hospital, a dozen bodies in yellow bags lay on the side of a parking lot. Nearby, a list of casualties was printed on sheets of white paper posted on a board, which people read by holding lighters and matches.
Arif Safrizal, 43, who was searching for his wife’s younger sister and brother, read down the list using three full matches. Both missing siblings were studying to become teachers, one majoring in English literature, the other in sports, he said.
“We haven’t heard from them, and we can’t reach them on the phone,” Safrizal, a shop owner, said. “My wife is worried.”
Beds for the injured were pulled from the hospital’s wreckage and placed inside makeshift tents in the parking lot.
Soon, however, all the mattresses were soaked in blood. Gloves, medicine bottles and bandages were strewn on the ground. Dozens of bodies were piled nearby, some clothed, some not, and weeping survivors searched the faces for missing relatives.
Late in the afternoon, a rumor based on local earthquake folklore raced through Padang, a city of 900,000, that another large quake was coming. Meanwhile, people lined up by the thousands for food.