Rescuers Fight To Reach Survivors After Indonesian Quake

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Days after two earthquakes struck the Indonesian island of Sumatra, officials say eight people trapped under a luxury hotel might till be alive. Guest host Jacki Lyden speaks to reporter Doualy Xaykaothao in Padang, Indonesia, about the aftermath of this week's earthquake and the search and rescue operation there.

JACKI LYDEN, host:

Three days after a pair of earthquake struck the Indonesian island of Sumatra, international rescue and recovery teams are still arriving to assist local staff. Doualy Xaykaothao traveled more than 24 hours in the car from the east of the island to the west to reach Padang, one of the hardest hit areas, and she joins us from there. Doualy, what were things like? You traveled on that Trans-Sumatran highway to reach Padang.

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO: It's an easier start than ending. We knew there was a shortage of food and gas. So we stocked up on that before we left, taking non-perishable items, bottles of water, as well as 60 liters of gas, which unfortunately didn't have tops for the containers. So we stuffed them with white cloth and secured the plastic (unintelligible). So it was a smelly road trip and a very - on mostly winding roads, and at various points it was just dirt roads and rocks but not smooth pavements, as you have in, say, Yosemite National Park.

It was hours and hours of luscious green rice terraces, rubber and palm trees and seeing beautiful old mosques and some colonial-styled Dutch structures. When we got a few hours from Padang, that's when we began to see the mudslides.

LYDEN: Hmm. Wow, that sounds like a stomach lurcher. So as you entered these villages, what did they look like?

XAYKAOTHAO: We passed a lot of villages. But from the highway, we only saw pockets of homes destroyed with their steel roofs on floors. Some homes only had cracked walls while others were missing the back side of their homes. Schools and mosques were a little shaky and certainly not a place where you want to be at this time. If you listen carefully, evening prayers have actually started at this time just across from a mosque nearby, but that mosque is actually in reasonably good condition.

LYDEN: Now, we noticed the hotel where rescue efforts have been concentrated. What's going on there now?

XAYKAOTHAO: We spent about three hours there observing heavy machinery moving very slowly to try and remove concrete slabs and steel. Yesterday officials learned that a male survivor had texted his family and told them that he and seven others were still alive.

LYDEN: Do you mean he texted from underneath the rubble?

XAYKAOTHAO: That's correct. He had enough battery life on his phone that he texted family and told them he and seven others were alive. We learned this from the chairman of the Red Cross, who told us - who was at the scene and told us that they were really hopeful that somebody would still be alive.

LYDEN: What else have you seen? What are people telling you about how they survived?

XAYKAOTHAO: Well, a lot of the government officials are telling us that people are trying to normalize their lives again. In other words, you know, get gas. Simple things like that, which they have been short of for the last several days. An official told us that they were trying to get 40 to 60 percent of the city with electricity again. We are still at a place where a lot of the city is still dark and there's no running water. People are using generators.

People are still concerned about aftershocks, which is why you see a lot of people still outside living in tents. People walking around just trying to figure out what's next.

LYDEN: Well, speaking of what's next, is this still a rescue and recovery operation?

XAYKAOTHAO: Yes. A U.N. official who's directing the coordination here, the rescue coordination, is saying that right now every second counts. People are still hoping to find survivors because this is not a devastation like that of the tsunami. We're talking about pockets of devastation, medium-sized well-built buildings that collapsed and possibly people still inside them.

For example, we were told that there is a conference room inside that same hotel that we were at earlier where people are still alive. Rescue workers tried to make a path between the outside to the conference room. And as they were coming out there were smiles on the face to kind of suggest that, you know, people were still in there.

LYDEN: Doualy Xaykaothao joined us from Padang, Indonesia.

Thank you very much and take care.

XAYKAOTHAO: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

LYDEN: You can read updates on the earthquake and stay on top of the rest of the day's news any time. Just go to our new Web site, NPR.org.

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