Death toll rises as rescue efforts intensify in Indonesian quake

BENGKULU, Indonesia - Frightened residents avoided their shattered homes and doctors performed emergency surgeries in the parking lot of a ruined hospital as the death toll rose to 103 today in Sumatra, an Indonesian island ravaged by a massive earthquake.

The search for victims intensified today despite rumbling aftershocks from the Sunday night quake. Police feared the number of casualties could rise further once authorities reach remote areas, including a tiny island closest to the epicenter.

Among the hardest-hit communities was Bengkulu town on Sumatra's southwest coast. An emergency government task force said 64 bodies had been recovered from rubble there. Many were sleeping when their poorly built homes collapsed, crushing them.

The quake cut off communications and electricity and closed the area's main airport. In Bengkulu, tens of thousands of the 250,000 residents spent Monday night outdoors, too afraid to return to damaged homes in case another big quake struck. More than 300 aftershocks have been recorded since the initial quake hit.

''We're too scared to go indoors again. What can we do now? Everything has gone,'' said Zohr Mahyum, whose house was reduced to a pile of rubble.

More than 100 badly injured patients - some two or three to a bed - were being treated in the parking lot of the devastated Young General Hospital. Doctors performed emergency operations under plastic sheeting. Twelve patients had died from quake-inflicted injuries.

Like much of the town, the hospital's badly cracked walls and caved-in roof were testament to the severity of the temblor, which was centered beneath the Indian Ocean, only 60 miles to the west.

''We got all patients and staff out immediately after the quake. It's unsafe inside,'' said physician Budi Mulana. ''We are finding things very difficult. We have only two days supply of medicines left.''

Blood supplies also were running low and medical equipment was lost under the debris.

Hundreds of homes in Bengkulu were damaged or destroyed, police and witnesses said. Major buildings had cracked walls. Smaller structures collapsed. Telephone services and roads in some parts of the region remained cut off today.

''The walls of my house fell in. I pulled my three boys from the rubble. They are hurt, but they are alive, thank God,'' said one patient, who goes by the single name of Suharto.

Police said teams of rescuers, including police and soldiers along with local people, had stepped up search efforts. Two navy ships were bringing emergency supplies. Rescue personnel were being deployed from other parts of Indonesia, and some foreign countries had offered assistance.

The greatest fears center around tiny Enggano island, about 125 miles southeast of Bengkulu town and closest to the quake's epicenter. Initial reports said as many as 90 percent of its buildings were flattened.

Earthquakes are common in Indonesia. Even so, Sunday night's tremor was one of the most powerful recorded here in several years.

The quake was felt across much of western half of the archipelago nation. People in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, more than 310 miles to the southeast, as well as in the neighboring island state of Singapore fled their apartments after high-rise buildings swayed.

The U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colorado put the strength of the quake at 7.9. The Indonesian Meteorological and Geophysical Service said it measured 7.3.


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