Padang, Indonesia - More people could have died in last week's earthquake that devastated Indonesia's West Sumatra had the government not conducted disaster drills, Governor Gamawan Fauzi said Wednesday.
"West Sumatra frequently held earthquake and tsunami drills," Fauzi told reporters. "If not, the scale of the disaster could have been higher."
Fauzi said his government received warnings that Sumatra, known to be a seismically vulnerable region, could be hit by a major earthquake months before, but the administration chose not to announce it to the public.
"We were worried if it was made public, people would not build houses or hotels," he said.
The official death toll from the magnitude-7.6 quake stood at 704 on Wednesday.
At least 295 were listed as missing but officials and aid workers believed that the number was higher, as many victims were believed to be still buried under collapsed buildings.
In Padang Pariaman district, near the provincial capital Padang, 400 people were believed buried when landslides caused by earthquakes slammed into three entire hamlets.
The local disaster coordinating agency said about 200,000 homes and 2,000 other buildings including schools, hospitals, and government offices were damaged, with around half of them destroyed.
Five ships carrying aid supplies such as tents, food and water treatment equipment arrived in Padang Wednesday, bringing hope that survivors who have complained that aid was slow to come would soon get urgent help.
Helicopters and trucks were delivering relief supplies to survivors in badly affected areas, especially Padang Pariaman.
In Padang Pariaman, survivors have been forced to take aid supplies by force out of desperation. (dpa)