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Our correspondent on the ground in Sumatra weighs in on fear, folklore and desperate rescue efforts.
Complicating the relief effort, Padang’s main hospital, called Djamil, is now in ruins, along with several other smaller ones. At Djamil, patients slept beneath makeshift tents in the parking lot, many of them on the ground. At another private hospital, many of the injured stayed indoors despite huge, jagged cracks in the walls and roof.
A large section of the parking lot at Djamil has been reserved for the deceased, but bodies were being left wherever there was space. Family members shrieked and sobbed as police lined up scores of bodies near the front of the hospital for them to identify. A large crowd of residents surrounded the bodies, standing on curbs, boxes and cars, anxiously trying to get a look at the faces of the dead.
Meanwhile, ambulances sped in and out, dropping off more and more injured and dead. Nurses and doctors there were fast running out of supplies, which were strewn all over the parking lot. As the day wore on, exhausted hospital staff were unable to immediately treat many of the seriously injured.
Thousands in this city of almost 1 million people began panicking all over again Thursday afternoon after hearing rumors that a massive aftershock was imminent. Local folklore says a major earthquake will hit the region every 200 years, and many think Wednesday’s tremblor was only the beginning. As such, residents rushed the few still functioning gas stations, stockpiling fuel for their cars, motorbikes and generators. Long lines of traffic waiting for fuel blocked major roadways, blocking ambulances and other rescue vehicles. Residents were also snatching up fruits and vegetables at a large streetside market, much of which had partially collapsed, ignoring a raging fire that was quickly spreading throughout the wooden shops.
Survivors stayed outside all day and were preparing to spend a second night sleeping outdoors, often on the side of the road in front of their shops and houses. As night fell, many residents sat around small campfires, while the majority of Padang remained without electricity or cell phone coverage.
Disaster management officials in Jakarta said it could be up to four days before electricity returned to the area.