PADANG, Indonesia – Aid workers reached farther into Indonesia's disaster zone Wednesday, delivering food and water for the first time to villages cut off for a week by earthquake-triggered landslides.
House after house in the village of Lubuk Laweh lay toppled, their owners scrounging through them for tarps and other belongings. Children ran into the street crying "please, help me" as a truck convoy of food and water supplies rattled in.
Large parts of the provincial capital of Padang and nearby villages were destroyed in the Sept. 30 quake. The official death toll was 704 but could reach into the thousands. About 180,000 buildings — half of them homes — were severely damaged or flattened, Indonesia's Disaster Management Agency said.
Many villages were swept away by landslides in the hilly terrain to Padang's north. Roads were severed or so badly damaged they are only passable on foot or motorbike, prompting some survivors to complain that aid was too slow in coming.
"I lost everything," said Yur, 42, a mother of six as she crouched outside her house in Lubuk Laweh that was crushed by a fallen palm tree.
"We are living on donations. We sleep in the neighbor's house. I'm scared the baby will get sick," said Yur, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.
Aid workers handed out bottled water and packets of instant noodles in the village in the first major aid delivery to reach it. The road to the village had been blocked by debris.
Aid workers from at least 20 countries are descending on West Sumatra, including the largest contingent of U.S. military since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed around 130,000 people in nearby Aceh province.
Like most of Indonesia, West Sumatra province had no functioning health system even before the quake and an influx of international aid has prompted all sorts of people to seek help.
"We have treated nearly 400 people in the past four days," said Yoshi Kazu Yamada, the deputy of a Japanese medical team in Padang Pariaman district, where about 100 people were lining up outside tents waiting for treatment.
"At first it was flesh wounds, but now it is more people seeking help for chronic conditions like diabetes," he said. "These problems were not caused by the quake, but they need care."
Efforts have shifted from the search for survivors to providing relief to the homeless — many of them huddling in makeshift shelters and cooking meager meals of rice and noodles over open fires or eating vegetables from their fields.
The quake was the worst natural disaster in the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation since one in the central Javanese city of Yogyakarta killed about 6,000 in 2006.
The 2004 tsunami killed 230,000 in a dozen countries, roughly half in Aceh. The U.S. military played a major role in the multinational relief effort for tsunami victims — an intervention that improved America's standing here at a time of negative perceptions following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Two U.S. Navy ships were expected to arrive Wednesday or Thursday, along with a USAID flight with 50 tons of emergency relief, said U.S. Rear Adm. Richard Landolt.
On Tuesday, 69 U.S. troops — including 11 doctors — opened up a 300-bed field hospital in Padang.