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Indonesia's latest earthquake disaster

Our correspondent on the ground in Sumatra weighs in on fear, folklore and desperate rescue efforts.

Injured people rest at a makeshift hospital in Padang, on Indonesia's Sumatra island, Oct. 1, 2009. Clean water as well as food and shelter are urgently needed by people in the city of Padang and the surrounding region on the island of Sumatra, where the earthquake struck. (Crack Palinggi/Reuters)

PADANG, Indonesia — Rescue workers, friends and family members frantically searched for survivors of a major earthquake for a second straight night, many of them using nothing but flashlights, as the death toll continued to rise here in West Sumatra.

Coordinators of the rescue effort have predicted there could be more than 1,000 killed by the quake, which struck Wednesday evening. A smaller, second earthquake rocked the region Thursday morning, just as residents and rescue workers were waking up to see the devastation around them.

In Padang, the capital of West Sumatra, officials confirmed Thursday that more than 400 bodies had so far been pulled from wrecked buildings. Hundreds more, they said, were still trapped.

In Pariaman, the closest village to the epicenter of the first quake, which measured a magnitude 7.6, police said about 200 people had been killed, many of them buried by a series of landslides dislodged by the earthquake. One villager from the area said the majority of the houses there had been flattened.

Police also said there were areas of West Sumatra where rescue workers had not yet been able to reach, indicating the damage could be even more widespread than originally thought.

A military spokesman said a thousand troops has been flown in Thursday to help in the rescue effort, while the finance ministry said $26 million in cash aid had been approved for the thousands who had lost their homes. In many cases using only their hands, rescue workers scoured hundreds of felled buildings in the capital, including one large hotel that had totally collapsed, trapping almost a hundred people inside.

Rescue workers and aid began arriving in large numbers Thursday afternoon, but many residents were still left to search on their own. Outside a collapsed office building in the city’s center, colleagues sifted through debris, looking for coworkers.

“I’m scared. I don’t know what to do. My friend is still trapped inside,” said Yudi, 20, who said he escaped minutes before the building collapsed. “Everyone was panicking, trying to rescue themselves. But some people didn’t make it out in time.”