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Ratna Kurniasari Virgo, 19, Rescued 40 Hours After Indonesia Earthquake

IRWAN FIRDAUS and ERIC TALMADGE   10/ 3/09 12:47 AM ET   AP

Indonesia

PADANG, Indonesia — Ratna Kurniasari Virgo lay surrounded by death for 40 hours – trapped with a broken leg between the collapsed walls of her college and the bodies of her dead friends. Her rescue Friday was a rare tale of survival two days after a massive Indonesian earthquake killed at least 715 people and left nearly 3,000 missing under the rubble of tens of thousands of buildings.

The wail of ambulances and the stench of decomposing bodies met volunteers from dozens of relief agencies Friday as they poured into the worst-hit area around the regional capital of Padang.

Block after block of toppled hotels, hospitals, office buildings and schools had yet to be searched and dozens of unclaimed corpses were laid out in the scorching sun at Dr. M. Djamil General Hospital, Padang's biggest, which was damaged in the quake.

Wednesday's 7.6 magnitude temblor devastated a stretch of more than 60 miles (100 kilometers) along the western coast of Sumatra island, prompting a massive international aid operation in a country where earthquakes have taken a huge human toll in recent years.

The United Nations estimates that the death toll from this quake could rise to 1,100. More than 20,000 houses and buildings were destroyed and 2,400 people hospitalized across seven districts, said Priyadi Kardono, a spokesman for the national disaster agency.

Fuel was being rationed amid a power outage, water and food were in short supply and villagers dug out the dead with their bare hands, witnesses and aid agencies said.

Contrasting that grim picture of grief and destruction, 19-year-old Virgo, an English major sophomore, was found alive under the rubble of her college in Padang, the Foreign Language School of Prayoga.

"Her dead friends were beneath and above her. Fortunately, she was able to withstand the stench for 40 hours," said Dubel Mereyenes, the doctor who treated her. "She has a severely injured leg, but we will try to avoid amputation."

Another survivor was a teacher at the same school, Suci Ravika Wulan Sari, who was extracted from the debris almost exactly 48 hours after the college crumbled in the 5:16 p.m. quake, killing dozens of students.

"She was conscious. Only her legs and fingers are swollen because she was squeezed," said the institute's director, Teresia Lianawaty. "Thank God! It is a miracle."

Elsewhere in the city, at the site of the former Ambacang Hotel where as many as 200 were feared trapped, rescue workers detected signs of life under a hill of tangled steel, concrete slabs and broken bricks of the five-story structure, said Gagah Prakosa, a spokesman of the rescue team.

"We heard some voices of people under the rubble, but as you can see the damage is making it very difficult to extricate them," Prakosa said, as a backhoe cleared the debris noisily.

As the scale of the destruction became clearer, Vice President Jusuf Kalla told reporters in the capital, Jakarta, that the recovery operation would cost at least $400 million because the "impact of this disaster has worsened."

Military and commercial planes shuttled in tons of emergency supplies, although rural areas remained cut off from help due to landslides that reportedly crushed several villages and killed nearly 300 people.

Swiss teams sent in dogs to help locate anyone who may still be alive, but by nightfall had not found anyone alive.

While the damage was most severe around Padang, a port city of 900,000, an Associated Press reporter saw virtually no remaining structures in the rural, hilly district of Pariaman, a community of about 370,000 people about 50 miles to the north.

Landslides had wiped away roads and there was no sign of outside help, leaving locals on their own to clear roads of landslides and dig out bodies.

Officials said more than 10,000 homes and buildings had been destroyed there. It was unclear how many died. At a makeshift center for the homeless, dozens took shelter under a 15-by-30 foot canopy donated by a local business.

"We don't know where else to go," said Charlie, a local resident, who like many Indonesians uses a single name. "We need food and tents, but we haven't gotten any help yet."

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told a crowd of people whose relatives are missing to "please be patient," assuring them the government was doing everything in its power to save lives.

"What can we do?" asked Rusdi Idram, burying his 25-year-old son Friday at a public Islamic cemetery as his wife stood by sobbing. "That was his fate. We have to accept and just surrender to Allah."

Millions of dollars in aid and financial assistance came from Australia, Britain, China, Germany, Japan, the European Union, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Denmark and the United States, Indonesian officials said.

Indonesia sits on a major geological fault zone and experiences dozens of quakes every year. Wednesday's quake originated on the same fault line that spawned the 2004 Asian tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen nations.

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Associated Press writers Ali Kotarumalos and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta contributed to this report.

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Filed by Hanna Ingber Win  |