01/05/2009, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Earthquake in West Papua: initial tally is 4 dead, 34 injured

by Mathias Hariyadi
Thousands of refugees have abandoned their homes out of fear of more collapses. The area is isolated, making the situation difficult for teams of aid workers. A government delegation has gone to the spot of the tragedy, one of the most poor and backward in the country.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - A series of strong tremors yesterday shook the province of West Papua, killing 4 and injuring 34. In order to address the emergency, the Indonesian government has sent a delegation of ministers and high officials to the area of the tragedy, but aid operations seem difficult because the area is isolated and difficult to reach. The main earthquake, of magnitude 7.6 on the Richter scale, struck 150 kilometers northwest of Manokwari, the capital of the province, 35 kilometers below the surface.

According to information provided by the national agency for natural disaster management, more than 130 buildings have been damaged, while thousands of people have abandoned their homes out of fear of aftershocks and the risk of a tsunami.

Priyadi Kardono, a civil protection representative, warns that the number of victims and the estimate of damage is temporary, and could increase over the next few hours because of the difficulty of reaching the placea hardest hit: these include the cities of Manokwari and Sorong. According to local sources, two hotels have been destroyed in Manokwari: the Mutiara Sanggeng and the Kali Dingin Wosi.

The poor quality of housing, much of which is made of wood, has contributed to increasing the impact of the tragedy. Many inhabitants of the province live in remote areas that are difficult to reach by vehicle. One of the few transportation services connecting the area is backed by a Catholic association, which provides connections using ultralight aircraft.

Despite the area's extensive natural resources, including oil, natural gas, gold, and timber, the more than 800,000 inhabitants of West Papua - located in the western part of the island of New Guinea - have long been overlooked by the Indonesian government; the area is among the most backward in the country, marked by malnutrition and underdevelopment.

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