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Indonesia: Search For Missing Survivors Called Off As Hope Fades

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PADANG, Indonesia — Workers used backhoes Tuesday to demolish buildings damaged in Indonesian's giant earthquake that left hundreds if not thousands dead, while food and emergency supplies were air-lifted to remote areas cut off by landslides.

The search for survivors was halted Monday – five days after the 7.6-magnitude quake struck off of the coast of West Sumatra. Aid workers are now focused on caring for the hundreds of thousands left homeless.

Crews with heavy digging equipment tore down the collapsed remains of the six-story Ambacang hotel in the regional capital, Padang, where as many as 200 people are believed to have died, and were flattening several other damaged buildings. Rather than pull out the bodies that can't be reached, they are burying them under the rubble.

Six helicopters shuttled aid to the isolated hillside villages of the Padang Pariaman district, where landslides buried more than 600 people, said Ade Edward, head of operations control at West Sumatra's Center for Disaster Management.

"We have stopped looking for living survivors and are maximizing the use of heavy equipment," he said. "We hope to clear the rubble in two weeks so we can start reconstruction."

When all the bodies are counted and the missing declared dead, the death toll from last Wednesday's quake is expected to be in the thousands. The official toll currently is 625.

On Monday, hundreds of children went back to classes in schools set up in tents. UNICEF has provided school supplies in three of 10 affected districts and was shipping 220 more tents for up to 60 students each.

In the old market area, stalls were full of food and bustling with residents stocking up on vegetables, fruit and fish.

Rows of stalls were still smoking from fires that broke out after the quake, possibly from electrical short circuits. Shopkeepers working beside cracked walls and teetering buildings swept up the mess of concrete and broken glass. The city of 900,000 resembled a sprawling demolition site with houses, mosques, schools, a mall and hotels brought down.

"It's all gone – my store, it all burned down," said Lucille Samsir, who owned a small shop. "It will take years for us to rebuild. ... Many women died here in the marketplace. We have to recover. We must."

Emergency workers faced an uphill battle trying to reach remote communities in the hills of Pariaman where whole villages were wiped out by landslides. The force of the quake gouged out mountainsides and dumped tons of mud, boulders and trees, burying hundreds of people alive.

Pariaman is only 40 miles (60 kilometers) from Padang, but many villages in the district have remained inaccessible because of landslides that blocked roads. Heavy rain since Sunday and thick wet mud also made it difficult for aid workers to reach the stricken areas, said Gagah Prakoso, a spokesman for the Indonesian Search and Rescue Agency.

One road ended at Kampung Dalam village, after which it had caved in, forcing rescue teams from South Korea, France and Germany to camp there and hike to villages farther away.

Prakoso said the rain caused another landslide on Monday but no casualties were reported.

The Meteorological and Geophysics Agency warned the region could see strong winds and storms for the next two days.

Authorities used helicopters to airdrop aid and bring the wounded to hospitals, Prakoso said. Two helicopters conducted six airdrops in isolated areas, delivering instant noodles, blankets, milk and dry food, he said.

It was unclear precisely how many people are without shelter, but more than 88,000 houses were flattened in the 10 affected districts, according to the U.N. and Indonesia's Disaster Management Agency. Another 100,000 public buildings were damaged.

Government minister Aburizal Bakrie said $600 million was needed to repair infrastructure. Officials initially said $400 million was needed, but raised the estimate after the scale of the disaster became clear.

Hiroaki Sano, head of the Japan Disaster Rescue Team, said international search and rescue teams were winding up operations and preparing to go back home.

"We got here quickly but we haven't found any survivors. The first 100 hours are crucial," he said.

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Associated Press writers Sarah Sayekti and Anthony Deutsch in Jakarta contributed to this report.

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