At least three Indonesian villages were obliterated by earthquake-triggered landslides that buried as many as 644 people including a wedding party under mountains of mud and debris, officials said Saturday.
The full extent of Wednesday's 7.6-magnitude earthquake was becoming apparent three days later as aid workers and government officials reached remote villages in the hills along Sumatra island's western coast.
If all 644 are confirmed dead — as is likely — the death toll in the disaster would jump to more than 1,300. The government's death toll currently is 715, with most casualties reported from the region's biggest city, Padang, where aid efforts are currently focused.
More than 3,000 people were listed as missing before the news about the obliterated villages emerged, The Associated Press reports.
Australian, British, Japanese and South Korean rescuers have arrived in Indonesia and the EU and Russia are also sending help. But while rescue efforts are still concentrated in Padang, there are serious concerns that it may be too late to save most of those missing, presumed trapped beneath the city's collapsed concrete buildings.
Instead the focus is shifting to emerging stories of widespread destruction in areas outside the city, BBC News reports.
Around 400 people have disappeared and are feared dead as the major earthquake that jolted West Sumatra on Wednesday sank Aia hamlet in Padang Pariaman regency.
Head of the crisis center at the Ministry of Health, Rustam Pakaya, said a rescue team had managed to unearth 26 bodies.
"Let the rest go. Excavating the area will only spark diseases," Rustam said was quoted by kompas.com. "The hamlet is completely flattened."
He said most of the victims were attending a wedding party when the powerful quake struck, The Jakarta Post informs.