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Thousands Feared Dead After Indonesia Quake

People search for victims under a collapsed building in Padang, West Sumatra on October 1.

People search for victims under a collapsed building in Padang, West Sumatra on October 1.

PADANG, Indonesia (Reuters) -- Rescue teams were struggling to find scores of people trapped under debris and survivors pleaded for aid after a powerful quake hit the Indonesian city of Padang, possibly killing thousands.

The 7.6-magnitude quake struck the bustling port city of 900,000 people on September 30, toppling hundreds of buildings. Telephone connections were patchy, making it hard for officials to work out the extent of destruction and loss of life.

"I have been through quakes here before and this was the worst. There is blood everywhere, people with their limbs cut off. We saw buildings collapsed, people dying," said American Greg Hunt, 38, who was at Padang airport.

A Reuters reporter in the city said rescuers were pulling people from buildings, but there was little sign of much aid being distributed yet. Fuel was also in short supply and there was a report of looting.

Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari told reporters at an airport in Jakarta before leaving for Padang that the number of dead could be numbered in the thousands, given the widespread damage. A worker compiling disaster data at the social ministry put the number killed of confirmed deaths at 529.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who arrived back from the G-20 meeting on October 1, told reporters the country could coordinate the relief efforts but welcomed help from abroad.

A 6.6-magnitude quake hit another part of Sumatra island on October 1, causing fresh panic. The second quake's epicenter -- inland and further to the southeast -- was 154 kilometers northwest of Bengkulu, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Elshinta radio reported that 12 people were hurt in Jambi and 60 houses damaged.

Hospital Damaged

A Reuters reporter at the partially collapsed Jamil hospital in Padang said there were at least 40 corpses on the ground. Many patients had been evacuated to the hospital's yard.

The reporter, whose own house collapsed, said some medical tents had been set up nearby but that many people who had gathered were still waiting for treatment.

A woman clutching her dead baby cried for help: "My son is dead. My son is dead." TV footage showed troops carrying a woman on a stretcher, blood seeping from wounds on her legs and her body covered in dust.

Heavy rain initially hampered rescue efforts and officials said power had been cut in Padang, which lies on a coastal plain and is surrounded by steep mountains that stretch far inland.

Damage to roads had affected transport of rubber in West Sumatra, the fifth-largest producing province for rubber in Indonesia.

Sumatra also has some of Indonesia's largest oil fields as well as a liquefied natural gas terminal, but there were no reports of damage at those facilities.

People Crowd Airport To Flee City

Sumatra is one of the most seismically active parts of Asia.

A 9.15-magnitude quake, its epicentre 600 kilometers northwest of Padang, caused the 2004 tsunami that killed 230,000 people in Indonesia and other Indian Ocean nations.

Australian businesswoman Jane Liddon told Australian radio from Padang that the city centre was devastated.

"The big buildings are down. The concrete buildings are all down, the hospitals, the main markets, down and burned. A lot of people died in there. A lot of places are burning."

The historic Ambacang Hotel had also collapsed and an official said people remained trapped in the Dutch-era building.

On the road into the Padang area, Nasaruddin, 45, had constructed a make-shift shelter from poles and a tarpaulin to try and shelter his family after his house had collapsed.

"We just ask that people know that we need donations very badly. Look at my family," said the father of four.

Padang's airport was operating, although many people were camping out on prayer mats as they tried to flee the city, while soldiers and aid groups such as the Red Crescent arrived.

Patrick Werner, 28, a German tourist at the airport, was on a beach when the quake struck. Some overseas visitors use Padang as an entry point to visit nearby beaches and mountains.

"We saw some cracks emerge in the soil and water come out of the ground like it was Universal Studios. We grabbed our passports and some money and ran up to the street," he said.

Officials said heavy equipment such as bulldozers, excavators and concrete cutters were badly needed, although getting into the area would be difficult given many severed roads.