News24

Disaster-hit Asia counts the dead

2009-10-01 14:09

Padang - Dazed Asian countries reeled from the full force of nature's fury on Thursday with thousands feared dead in a rapid-fire onslaught of earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons.

Rescuers picked through rubble after a huge quake struck Indonesia and a towering tsunami deluged the Samoan islands, while millions of flood-hit storm survivors in Southeast Asia braced for a new super-typhoon.

Fresh panic hit the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where another powerful quake hit the day after Wednesday's 7.6-magnitude disaster, sending traumatised residents fleeing their homes.

Officials said 529 were confirmed dead on Sumatra. But as rescue workers dug with their bare hands to reach those trapped alive in collapsed buildings, the number was expected to soar.

"Our prediction is that thousands have died," Health Ministry crisis centre head Rustam Pakaya said.

The first flights laden with aid and body bags began arriving in the devastated coastal city of Padang, home to nearly a million people, where Wednesday's quake sparked fires and caused buildings to crumble.

"I've been waiting here since yesterday. I haven't been home yet and keep praying to God my daughter is alive," 49-year-old mother Andriana said as police searched a collapsed school where dozens of children were believed trapped.

Ring of Fire

Authorities said they were suffering from a desperate shortage of heavy machinery, and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged officials to "flood" the city with aid and medical relief.

It was the second quake in hours on the Pacific Ocean's volatile "Ring of Fire", coming after the massive 8.0-magnitude tremor that spawned a deadly tsunami in the Samoan islands.

At least 148 people died and scores more are missing after waves of up to 7.5m obliterated island villages, in the South Pacific archipelago's worst quake in nearly a century.

Survivors saw truckloads of bodies in the once-idyllic holiday destination, in a grim echo of Asia's Boxing Day tsunami in 2004. Four Australians, two Koreans, a New Zealander and a British toddler were among the dead.

"It's not paradise any more - it's hell on earth," one survivor told Australia's Sky News.

Pristine white beaches that once wooed bathers were strewn with the mangled wreckage of buildings, cars, luggage and poignant personal items.

Aid planes arrived in Samoa from Australia and New Zealand, presenting rescuers with horrifying scenes.

A new menace

"For Samoa this is just real devastation, I have never seen anything like this before," said aid worker Tony Hill.

Meanwhile Southeast Asia faced a new menace from the skies as the death toll from floods and landslides caused by Typhoon Ketsana climbed on Thursday to 383 in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

The latest threat, Typhoon Parma, churned towards the Philippines packing gusts of up to 185km/h and was expected to become a super typhoon before it makes landfall on Saturday.

"We are dealing with a very strong typhoon, so we should be at the highest level of preparedness," state weather bureau spokesperson Nathaniel Cruz said as nearly 700 000 people remained in government-run shelters.

Authorities warned it could lash areas still reeling from Ketsana, which at the weekend dumped the heaviest rains in more than four decades on Manila and submerged most of the capital.

Vietnam on Thursday intensified efforts to get food and water to stranded victims but many complained that help had been slow to arrive. Around 200 000 people have fled their homes in the country.

In Cambodia, people sifted through the wreckage of smashed wooden houses, with thousands left homeless. The storm also flooded swathes of Siem Reap province, home to the famed Angkor Wat temples.