Hopes Fade For Thousands Buried Under Quake Rubble

With no survivors found in the city’s ruins over the weekend, hopes have all but died that any of the thousands more still missing or trapped under rubble from last week’s devastating earthquake will be found alive. Agusli S H, a Red Cross Indonesia rescue worker who has been working at the collapsed Ambacang Hotel since Thursday morning, said that it would be all but impossible to find anyone still alive. More than 600 people were confirmed dead on Sunday, but the death toll is expected to rise to about 3,000 as the full magnitude of the disaster becomes clearer. Entire villages across West Sumatra were wiped out by landslides triggered by Wednesday’s 7.6-magnitude quake, and many remote areas had not even been reached on Sunday. “It’s been five days. They’ve been trapped there for five days. I think the possibility is almost zero. If anyone survives now, that would be a miracle,” Agusli said. There were 125 people staying at the 140-room Ambacang when it collapsed, the hotel’s general manager, Sarana Aji, said. Teams have recovered 29 bodies from the site and one survivor was rescued on Friday, he added. Hopes rose on Saturday when police said they had received an SMS text message from someone trapped in the rubble claiming eight people were alive inside. But as the 50-member rescue team spent a fourth day laboring with no success, the mood became increasingly pessimistic. Gagah Prakoso, spokesman for the Indonesian Search and Rescue Agency, echoed the sentiment that operations should shift from rescue to recovery. “Life detectors, which detect heartbeats, have shown there isn’t anyone alive underneath the rubble of most high-rise buildings in Padang,” he told Bloomberg. “We have used detectors, dogs, even bare hands, every means possible to search for any survivors, but I have to say that the chance is almost zero by now. “Realistically it is very, very difficult for anyone to still be alive after being trapped without water and food under the rubble for so long,” Gagah said. The sniffer dogs that had offered a small ray of hope to the crowds of people waiting for news outside the hotel’s ruins over the past few days have given way to pneumatic drills and bulldozers. The smell of decomposing bodies was strongest near what used to be the Ambacang’s swimming pool, where five excavators worked to remove chunks of broken concrete. “I think the chances of finding survivors are very slim,” said Samsubin, the leader of the Newmont Emergency Rescue Team.

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