Death toll mounts from earthquake in Indonesia
29 March 2005, JAKARTA - Representatives of the German NGO Johanniter have confirmed 400 people dead and 1,000 missing on Nias alone, as the death toll from the Indonesia earthquake continued to mount on Tuesday.
29 March 2005
JAKARTA - Representatives of the German NGO Johanniter have confirmed 400 people dead and 1,000 missing on Nias alone, as the death toll from the Indonesia earthquake continued to mount on Tuesday.
Indonesian leaders say some 2,000 people in total may have perished after a 8.7-magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of Sumatra, renewing fears of another tsunami disaster throughout Indian Ocean coastal regions.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the estimate of those killed in the quake could be in the thousands, but due to poor communication, it was still difficult to get an accurate assessment of the damage in affected areas.
"This is just a rough estimate that between 1,000 to 2,000 people were killed in the earthquake," Jusuf Kalla told reporters.
Most of the deaths were being reported on the island of Nias, some 1,500 kilometres northwest of Jakarta, that was closest to the epicentre, where some 300 people were reported to have died, but new reports said 100 people had also been killed on the island of Simeulue and 2,000 others were injured.
Aid workers in Medan, a major city nearby that has become a regional hub for aid distribution following the 26 December earthquake-triggered tsunami, were scrambling to get to the island of Nias and other areas nearby.
The airport tower on Nias had collapsed and the runway was cracked, making it impossible for relief planes to land, so aid workers were setting out overland, a journey they said could take a full day by vehicle and boat.
In the meantime, aid workers were collecting information on the damage through networks of volunteers and workers on the island.
Representatives of the German NGO Johanniter, who said they had received information by telephone and from people who were travelling to the affected island areas on motorbikes, said some 400 people were confirmed dead and another 1,000 were missing underneath the rubble on Nias alone, and that this estimate did not include some areas which were still unreachable.
"No one can go there now," said Marc Vachon, an aid worker with Johanniter, from Medan. "Even if you can get there, you can't go anywhere on the island."
"From north to south there are so many bridges and so many of them have been damaged," he said. "There have been no reports at all from the west coast of Nias."
As a result, the Indonesian military was performing most of the aid missions to Nias on Tuesday, bringing medicine and food supplies.
The Indonesian military had flown helicopters with aid to the area, and the Indonesian navy was sending three warships to Nias, each carrying 70 to 80 personnel to help the rescue workers. Advance teams from the health ministry had also been sent.
The Indonesian armed forces (TNI) had deployed one battalion of troops to Nias to help in the evacuation of residents, retrieval of dead bodies and rescue of survivors still trapped under rubble of collapsed houses and buildings.
"For the first phase, we will deploy one battalion (of troops) today from North Sumatra military command to Nias," said TNI spokesman Colonel Achmad Yani Basuki.
Despite government estimates in the thousands, Information and Communications Minister Sofyan Djalil and other local government officials were giving more conservative figures, saying up to 200 people were killed in the quake, the most powerful tremor to hit Indonesia's island of Sumatra since the 26 December 9.0-earthquake that triggered tsunamis that left some 300,000 dead.
The largest town on the island, Gunungsitoli, was still reporting some of the worst damage and numbers of casualties, with officials saying some 80 percent of buildings and homes in the city had collapsed.
"Gunungsitoli is a dead city," said Agus Mendrofa, an official from Nias district, adding that electricity had been completely cut off in the city.
Antara, Indonesia's state-run news agency reported that Monday's earthquake also destroyed hundreds of homes and buildings in the district town of Singkil in Aceh. But there were still no reports of casualties from the mainland Aceh province.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he had postponed his visit to Australia, New Zealand and East Timor, scheduled to kick off on Wednesday, until 4 April. Kalla and Yudhoyono were expected to visit the island on Wednesday and Thursday respectively.
"I have postponed the visits until our emergency relief programme for Nias and Simeulue is running well," the president was quoted as saying by the state-run news agency, Antara, after a cabinet session to discuss relief operations to the two islands.
Yudhoyono also said he welcomed aid from the international community. Japan, India and other countries have already pledged money, supplies and workers to help Indonesia manage the fall-out from the most recent quake.
"The Indonesian government will gladly accept international humanitarian aid," he said. "I continue to communicate with the international community on this matter."
Mar'ie Muhammad, the head of Indonesia's Red Cross, said communication with other islands, such as Simeulue nearby, had been largely cut off so they were still unable to ascertain the full extent of casualties or damage.
"The communications with another set of islands, the Simeulue, remain cut off," said Muhammad. "The condition of the people on the islands is still unknown."
The Red Cross had already flown medical equipment and a team of paramedics to Nias, where at least 340 residents were killed and some 10,000 left homeless after the 26 December quake.
The new quake panicked still-traumatised Sumatrans and others across the region, but many were returning home on Tuesday as the threat of a major tsunami appeared behind them.
Residents on the island of Sumatra, particularly in Aceh - the province hardest hit by the earlier disaster - had fled their homes for higher ground as governments throughout the region issued warnings the quake could trigger another tsunami like the one in December that killed or left missing more than 220,000 people in Aceh alone.
There were no reports that a major tsunami had been generated or widespread damage had been caused by Monday's quake.
Meanwhile German travel companies generally agreed on Tuesday that they did not expect an impact on their business in the wake of the latest earthquake in Indonesia.
Officials at the major firms TUI and Thomas Cook noted that the main season for the region is now over as far as German vacationers are concerned. They usually book the Asian resorts in the winter.
"We don't expect any major effects," a TUI spokesman said, a comment echoed by Thomas Cook spokesman Rolf-Dieter Grass.
The TUI spokesman said that as a precautionary measure against the possibility of a tsunami, "a handful" of the company's guests in Sri Lanka had been moved to higher floors of their hotel.
Thomas Cook, with its main travel trademarks of Neckermann and Condor, said it immediately alerted its representatives in Thailand and Sri Lanka after news of the Indonesian quake.
Some vacationers were moved to higher floors of their hotels or further inland, but after the tsunami warning was called off, the tourists returned to their original lodgings, the Thomas Cook spokesman said. He could not specify how many vacationers were affected by the tsunami warning measures.
Subject: German news