GUNUNG SITOLI, Indonesia – Rescuers turned their focus Friday to remote villages on the Indonesian island that bore the brunt of a powerful earthquake four days ago, as food aid — some of it left over from the devastating quake and tsunami three months ago — arrived in the area.
"We found one person alive yesterday morning, that was the last person. It's been 24 hours since then and there's been nothing," said Olaf Lingjerde, a U.N. search and rescue official whose teams have been combing the wreckage of collapsed homes and shops in the city. "There are not reports from locals of any more sounds" from under the rubble.
Lingjerde said teams would fan out to other towns on Nias, which was hardest hit by Monday night's magnitude-8.7 quake.
The Indonesian government said Thursday it expects the final death toll from the disaster to be between 400 and 500, following estimates earlier in the week ranging as high as 2,000.
A local police officer compiling a list of the dead, Col. Zainuri Lubis, said 424 people were confirmed dead on Nias island and 31 in Aceh province, which includes Simeulue Island and parts of Sumatra (search).
International aid agencies have taken the lead in relief and recovery efforts in the string of islands off Sumatra that were hit by Monday's quake, and the Indonesian government has conceded it was slow to respond to the disaster, blaming bad weather and shattered roads.
In the village of Tumorei, about 12 miles from Gunung Sitoli, Mahayati Inadiman said food was in short supply.
"The people here are suffering. We have to eat bananas from the jungle," said Inadiman, a 27-year-old housewife. "We get rice provided by the government but it is not enough."
She said no one died in her village even though many houses were damaged.
A village chief from the remote Banyak Islands (search), close to the epicenter, said Friday that the islanders also had suffered no casualties, but were desperate for food and water.
"The shops where all the rice and water were stored are now filled with salt water so we have no supplies left," said Lukman, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.
Aid groups have diverted aid that was stockpiled in Sumatra to assist victims of the earthquake and tsunami three months ago that devastated northern Sumatra and hit 11 other countries on the Indian Ocean's rim.
U.N. relief coordinator Francois Desruisseauz said 350 tons of rice, water, tinned fish and other supplies were being distributed to hungry survivors Friday.
The rice was shipped from warehouses in Aceh province, where it was being stored for distribution to victims of the Dec. 26 catastrophe that killed more than 126,000 in Indonesia and left a half-million homeless.
U.N. spokeswoman Imogen Wall said there were reports from Simeulue island that entire villages had been flattened. The island also was hit hard by the earlier tsunami.
"In some villages, there is something like 100 percent destruction," she said.
Casualties do not appear to be high on Simeulue, she said, because many homes were made of flimsy materials that were unlikely to cause serious injuries if they collapsed.
The aid group SurfAid International (search) said about 20,000 people had been left homeless in Gunung Sitoli and 8,000 on Simeulue — in addition to some 23,000 left homeless on Simeulue by the Dec. 26 tsunami.