PADANG, Indonesia – A second powerful earthquake rocked western Indonesia on Thursday as rescuers struggled to reach survivors of the previous day’s quake, which killed more than 500 people and left thousands trapped under collapsed buildings.
The death toll from Wednesday’s 7.6-magnitude earthquake off Sumatra island was expected to rise as rescuers dig through the rubble, sometimes by hand, in heavily populated cities. The latest, 6.8-magnitude quake damaged hundreds of additional buildings, and communications remained cut in some areas.
“Let’s not underestimate (the disaster). Let’s be prepared for the worst. We will do everything we can to help the victims,” President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said in Jakarta before flying to Padang.
A total of 529 people were confirmed dead and 440 were seriously injured, the Social Affairs Ministry’s crisis center said. It said 376 deaths occurred in Padang, a coastal city of 900,000 and capital of West Sumatra province. The rest were in four surrounding districts.
Thousands were believed trapped, said Rustam Pakaya, head of the Health Ministry’s crisis center. A foot could be seen sticking from one pile of rubble.
The president ordered the military to deploy all its crisis centers in Jakarta, West Sumatra and North Sumatra provinces and said the military will provide earth-moving equipment to clear the rubble.
Padang became the immediate focus of rescue efforts. At least 500 buildings in the city collapsed or were badly damaged in Wednesday evening’s quake, which also set off fires, said Disaster Management Agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono.
Terrified residents who spent a restless night, many sleeping outdoors, were jolted by the new quake Thursday morning.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake hit about 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of Padang. It damaged 1,100 buildings, including mosques and homes, in Jambi, according to Mayor Hasfiah, who uses only one name like many Indonesians. He said there were no deaths but dozens of people were injured.
In Padang, collapsed or seriously damaged buildings included hospitals, mosques, a mall and a school. TVOne network footage showed heavy equipment breaking through layers of cement in search of more than 30 students it said were missing from the school, where they were taking after-school classes.
Parents of missing students stayed up all night, waiting for signs of life.
“My daughter’s face keeps appearing in my eyes … my mind. I cannot sleep, I’m waiting here to see her again,” a woman who identified herself only as Imelda told TVOne, tears rolling down her face. She said her 12-year-old daughter Yolanda was in the school for science lessons.
“She is a good daughter and very smart. I really love her. Please, God help her,” she said.
At least 80 people were missing at the 5-story Ambacang hotel in downtown Padang, said Indra, a paramedic who uses only one name. Rescuers, working in heavy rain, found two survivors and nine bodies in the rubble.
Thousands fled Wednesday’s quake in panic, fearing a tsunami. The shaking was so intense that people crouched or sat on the street. Children screamed as thousands of frantic residents fled in cars and motorbikes, honking horns.
The quake caused buildings to sway hundreds of miles (kilometers) away in Malaysia and Singapore.
The quake severed roads and cut off power and communications to Padang, and the extent of damage in surrounding areas was still unclear.
Indonesia, a poor, sprawling nation, sits on a major geological fault zone and is frequently hit by earthquakes. The latest quakes were along the same fault line that spawned the 2004 Asian tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen nations.
Geologists said the Indonesia quakes were not related to another deadly quake Tuesday that hit islands in the South Pacific.
Padang’s mayor appealed for assistance on Indonesian radio station el-Shinta.
“We are overwhelmed with victims and … lack of clean water, electricity and telecommunications,” Mayor Fauzi Bahar said. “We really need help. We call on people to come to Padang to evacuate bodies and help the injured.”
Finance minister Sri Mulyani said the government has allocated $25 million for a two-month emergency response. She said the earthquake will seriously affect Indonesia’s economic growth, because West Sumatra is a main producer of crude palm oil.
“This region has been damaged seriously, including its infrastructure,” Mulyani said.