Residents searched through smoldering rubble for survivors on Indonesia's Nias island yesterday and relatives wept over the bodies of the dead after an 8.7-magnitude earthquake hammered the region, triggering a tsunami scare. Death toll estimates ranged from 330 to 2,000.
UN and other relief agencies rushed to ferry aid supplies to the island, which bore the brunt of the quake's force almost three months to the day after an even bigger temblor nearby sent killer waves crashing into coastlines around the Indian Ocean's rim.
Fears of a second tsunami faded yesterday when seas failed to rise up in the hours after the overnight quake -- but not before triggering panic in nations still traumatized by the earlier disaster.
Budi Atmaji Adiputro, a spokesman for Indonesia's Coordinating Agency for National Disaster Relief, said rescuers found 330 bodies in the rubble yesterday. The toll was expected to rise because more bodies were believed to be trapped in collapsed buildings, he said.
From the air, it appeared that about 30 percent of buildings in Gunung Sitoli, the island's biggest city, were destroyed, and there was significant damage in the island's second biggest town, Teluk Dalam.
An Associated Press Television News cameraman who landed briefly in the city said he saw at least one dead body and about four injured islanders who had yet to receive medical treatment.
At least two fires were still smoldering in Gunung Sitoli. From the air it was possible to see about 1,000 people who had gathered in a large field in the town.
A soccer pitch in the town was turned into a makeshift triage center, with about 10 badly injured survivors -- some of them lying on wooden doors -- awaiting evacuation by relief agency helicopters. People swarmed around UN helicopters as they landed to deliver relief supplies.
In Jakarta, the SCTV network showed images from the island including survivors weeping over the sarong-covered bodies of a child and a middle-aged woman. In another image, two men on a motorbike carried what appeared to be a body wrapped in sarongs.
In other images, survivors used their bare hands to toss away chunks of rubble from a collapsed building.
In Jakarta, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono sent condolences to the families of the dead.
He said Indonesia had been offered help from around the world.
"We welcome and highly appreciate it," he said.
Yudhoyono postponed a planned visit Wednesday to Australia and said he would fly to Nias to assess the damage.
Australian officials said Yudhoyono was now expected in Australia on Sunday.
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