Schools hold class in tents after Indonesia quake

PADANG, Indonesia – Hundreds of children went back to class Monday in schools set up in tents in Indonesia's earthquake zone to get counseling on the loss of loved ones and homes, as authorities tried to restore normalcy after the disaster.

UNICEF provided tents and basic supplies for schools in three of 10 districts along the western coast of Indonesia's Sumatra island that was hit by Wednesday's 7.6 magnitude temblor — likely to have killed thousands.

Among more than 180,000 buildings destroyed or badly damaged are hundreds of schools, Indonesia's Disaster Management Agency has said.

The resumption of classes was largely symbolic, giving just a few hundred children an opportunity to meet with teachers and receive counseling to process the trauma of recent days, including the death of relatives and being made homeless.

"The government has called for classes to resume as soon as possible so they can create some normalcy," said Amson Simbolon, an education officer for UNICEF, as math classes began for around 300 students at one badly-damaged school in hard-hit city of Padang.

The agency has provided 15 tents, each able to fit 50-60 children, and is shipping another 220 by boat from the capital, Jakarta, he said.

"Many school are damaged and the situation is bad," he said.

There is no clear word on the death toll. The United Nations put the figure at 1,100. The government earlier said 715 were dead and 3,000 were missing. But it revised the figure Sunday to 603 confirmed killed and 960 missing, presumably dead.

Among the missing are more than 600 who were buried alive in landslides in four villages in the hills of Padang Pariaman district. The victims included 200 to 300 guests at a wedding party in Jumanak village.

The restaurant where the party was being held was damaged but largely intact. A slice of the green wedding cake lay untouched on a plate, covered with flies. The guests were apparently killed when they ran outside as the ground began to tremble but were swept away by the landslide 40 yards meters away.

Iseh, a 15-year-old boy, said his sister, Ichi, was the bride. She, the groom and most of the guests were killed.

He said Ichi, 19, had come back to the village for her wedding.

"When the landslide came, the party had just finished. I heard a big boom of the avalanche. I ran outside and saw the trees fall down," Iseh, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, told The Associated Press.

"I tried to get in front of the house with my brothers. We were so afraid. Landslides started coming from all directions. I just ran and then I waited," he said.

On Sunday, hordes of aid workers, military personnel, police and volunteers finally reached the villages, bringing with them heavy earth moving equipment, relieving villagers who had been digging for the rotting corpses with bare hands while surrounded by the stench of death.

But by early afternoon a heavy downpour lashed the area, raising fears of fresh landslides. Police ordered all residents, aid workers, journalists and volunteers to leave. The exodus — on motorcycles, cars and trucks — caused a massive traffic jam on the two-lane road to Padang, the provincial capital that was also badly hit.

In Padang, rescuers gave up hope of finding any survivors in the rubble of the 140-room, Dutch-colonial style Ambacang Hotel. Some 200 people were in the hotel when it collapsed. Search teams have found 29 bodies so far, and no one alive.

Associated Press writers Ali Kotarumalos, Anthony Deutsch, Niniek Karmini and Vijay Joshi in Jakarta contributed to this report.

A Chesapeake Bay Retriever competes in the diving dog competition of the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge, Oct. 3, 2009. AP Photo/Purina, Whitney Curtis