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Death Toll Mounts From Pacific Earthquakes

The death toll from a series of powerful earthquakes in American Somoa and Indonesia continued to climb Thursday as aid workers raced to help survivors.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    The death toll soared today in the twin disasters in Indonesia and the Samoan Islands. Officials in Indonesia reported at least 777 dead after Wednesday’s powerful earthquake there.

    Rescuers on Sumatra hunted for the missing and injured. And the U.N. humanitarian chief said the count could reach 1,100 dead.

    We begin our lead story coverage with a report from James Mates of Independent Television News.

  • JAMES MATES:

    Where 24 hours earlier there were high-rise apartments and offices, today there are mountains of rubble. Somewhere buried beneath this devastation there are still people who survived, trapped now and running out of time. It is a desperate fight to reach them while they can still be helped.

    For many, though, there could be no help. Indonesian authorities are warning the number of dead could run into thousands.

    What we’re seeing here is pretty typical of the city. The major buildings, the hotels, hospitals, schools, the big public buildings, they’re the one that’s collapsed and they’re the reason that the death toll appears to be so high.

    As we arrived and drove through the city earlier this afternoon, most houses are unaffected. This, of course, is a heavy earthquake zone, and houses are built for it. But it seems the big public buildings were not.

    Local television broadcast these pictures of the panic and confusion in the center of the port city of Padang immediately after yesterday’s earthquake. The air is full of dust. People appear to be trying to get away from the worst affected areas where buildings have collapsed.

    Since then, Padang has experienced a night where fires started by the earthquake burned, as ordinary people led the operation to recover those lost underneath the many collapsed buildings.

    Here is a young man. He is conscious, but he must wait for lifting equipment to remove the masonry that is trapping him.

    Many of the injured are being treated in makeshift centers as Padang’s main hospital has been severely damaged by the earthquake. There have been moments to encourage the rescue teams. Here, a woman covered in dust is pulled alive from the rubble where she’d been entombed since the earthquake struck.

    Standing in the remains of what was Padang’s best known hotel, Indonesia’s president, Yudhoyono, promised more life-saving equipment and medical teams would arrive soon.

    But for many, it is already much too late. With aftershocks and a second lesser earthquake to contend with, this operation is being carried out in the most desperate circumstances. Survivors are finding it hard to understand just what has befallen their city and their families.

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