03/30/2005, 00.00
INDONESIA

Hundreds of quake victims on Banyak Islands

Rescue operations on Nias and Simeuleu are made difficult by lack of earth-moving equipment to clear roads from rubble. International community is sending aid and pledges economic support.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The international community is mobilising to bring emergency aid and equipment to the quake-devastated Indonesian island of Nias. The picture of the disaster is becoming clearer as well.

Hundreds of bodies have been fund on the remote Banyak Islands located between the islands of Nias and Simeuleu.

"It is reported that 200 to 300 people died in Banyak, but we have not received further information about the homeless and wounded," said Nerli Sulitiani, an official with the national disaster agency.

The 8.7 quake hit Nias Island hardest killing at least 1,000, possibly 2,000 people, according to government officials.

Nias and the Banyak group are about 1,400 km (870 miles) northwest of Jakarta, off the western coast of Sumatra.

Rescue operations already underway in Nias and Simeuleu have hit several snags. Food, clean water and medicines are needed but so is heavy-lifting equipment to move rubble and uncover bodies.

Electrical power and telephone lines are out of service and communication links destroyed preventing aid from arriving. Food supplies are stuck in Medan (North Sumatra) for technical reasons.

In the meantime, international organisations and many countries are coming to Indonesia's assistance. The United Nations announced that it was ready to "help reconstruction and support the Indonesian people in this difficult moment".

Its office in Banda Aceh, the city hardest hit in the December tsunami, dispatched a special team to Simeuleu Island. Along with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the World Health Organisation, it has sent medical supplies and tents to the island where, it is feared, at least 100 people might be buried under the rubble.

Singapore today sent three Chinook military helicopters to Medan with medical staff, whilst China and the Red Cross are donating US$ 500,000 and 300,000 respectively.

The European Union is sending a team to evaluating the emergency and will send economic aid if it proves necessary.

Oxfam International, which is already present in nearby Banda Aceh since the December 26 tsunami, is sending a team of experts.

North Sumatra Governor Tengku Rizal Nurdin said that Spain was sending military helicopters to Nias and ordering its aircraft carriers, which had just left Aceh province and are now in Malaysian waters, to sail for the affected area.

South African President Thabo Mbeki extended South Africa's condolences to his Indonesian counterpart and said his country would provide aid "within the limited resources at its disposal".

The Indonesian army has deployed five battalions in Nias to assist in the rescue operations.

Three Indonesian Navy ships have also been ordered to the disaster area bringing medical and food supplies for the population. One of them is scheduled to be turned into a mobile hospital. (MA-MH)

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