Rescue workers reported on Saturday that entire villages had been sucked under the earth after the the devastating earthquake that hammered western Sumatra, estimating that at last 600 people had lost their lives in the countryside surrounding Pandang.
The dead included those attending a large wedding party numbering several hundreds. If the figure is confirmed, it would bring the total death toll to above 1,300. More than 3,000 people were listed as missing before the news about the villages emerged.
In Pandang itself, a colonial-era hotel became the national focus for hopes that survivors might still be found. In dramatic scenes, rescuers dug for eight guests and staff rumoured to be alive in the wreckage of the city’s Ambacang hotel.
At the hotel, a prominent landmark in the university town of 900,000, the rescue efforts were inspired by a text message sent by a victim to his family on Friday. The message, delivered as rescue workers attempted to burrow their way through rubble and masonry, said simply: “Be careful that the excavator doesn’t cause the building to collapse on us.”
The once grand, 140-room hotel complex was destroyed by the earthquake, but relatives and locals gathered outside as rescuers searched among the rubble for the survivors they believed could be trapped between the fifth and sixth floors. Jul, who worked as a waiter in the hotel’s restaurant downstairs, said he did not believe anyone could still be alive in the wreckage. “I think seven people I know are inside. Inside somewhere. Alive? I don’t think so,” he said.
The cavity of the KFC restaurant on the ground floor remained largely untouched. Tables still stood and food, abandoned in panic, still sat on them. “We estimate there are still eight people trapped alive under Ambacang Hotel,” Colonel Boy Rafli Amar told reporters.