Massive Quake Relief Continues to Pour into Indonesia

Dozens of Christian relief agencies and organizations continued to pour aid into the northwest Indonesian island of Nias Friday, as relief workers struggled to push through aid to the island’s hungry and injured earthquake survivors.

While the chances of finding more people under the rubble of Monday's massive quake were ebbing away, a huge international effort to pour aid into Nias and nearby Simeulue island has been hit by logistical nightmares, with reports of bottlenecks at mainland airports and difficulties moving supplies along demolished roads on the island, according to the Agence-France Presse (AFP).

Francois Desruisseaux, the United Nations aid coordinator on Nias, said with full contact yet to be established to many areas, the true extent of the damage was not fully known but the death toll was expected to rise.

"As of yesterday, we estimate that a total of 1,300 people, most of them in Gunung Sitoli, are dead. But this is a rough estimate," Desruisseaux said, according to AFP. The UN has so far confirmed about 620 as dead, while the government puts the figure at 500.

Meanwhile, those who escaped its destructive force were becoming increasingly desperate with food and drinking water in short supply, AFP reported.

Many spent a fourth night out in the open, too traumatized to return to their homes for fear of a repeat of the 8.7 magnitude quake or the Dec. 26 tsunami that left more then 220,000 Indonesians dead or missing.

Hungarian Baptist Aid (HBAid), which is coordinating efforts with the Baptist Word Aid (BWA) on the island of Nias, reports that hundreds of houses in Indonesia have collapsed and more than a thousand people died. The worst hit region is again Aceh, mid-Sumatra, Cocos and Nias.

According to the BWA, 500 people were killed and about 600 homes were destroyed on the island of Nias—which was near to the epicenter of the massive earthquake. BWA reports that hundreds of people are believed buried under rubble, and many others were injured. Between 10,000 and 15,000 people fled about 10 kilometers to higher ground for safety, in case of a tsunami.

Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), which Mission Network News (MNN) reports as being one of the first to respond to the tragedy, said it had flown medical supplies and personnel into the region shortly after the quake hit on Monday.

"[The day after] the earthquake hit . . . we were able to make some flights into that area and help make assessments of what had taken place,” MAF Spokesman Dennis Fulton told MNN. “What they saw was a large number of buildings damaged, especially concrete structures. They saw many dead and injured."

World Vision, one of the largest Christian relief and development organizations in the world, reports that it has sent three shipments of relief supplies to the island of Nias.

The first shipment is expected to arrive tomorrow and contains 28,512 bottles of drinking water, 14,588 soap bars and 2,477 blankets. World Vision will immediately distribute the relief items to 6,000 internally displaced persons in the capital Gunung Sitoli.

Meanwhile, over 500 emergency packs of soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes and blankets, in addition to 2,430 packs of buckets, cooking utensils, tarps, sarongs and torch batteries have been sent by World Vision from Jakarta by truck, due to arrive Tuesday, Apr. 5. A World Vision shipment from Banda Aceh containing 1,000 tents and 3,000 mosquito nets will also be ready for distribution at that time.

According to World Vision, Banda Aceh and the Port of Sibolga currently remain the best points from which goods and personnel can be transported to Nias.

“Following the earthquake, the only vehicles available to get to Nias were two UN helicopters,” explained Rein Paulsen, World Vision Asia Tsunami Response Team Operations Director. “The tremor heavily damaged the airport runway, which prevented the arrival of fixed-wing aircraft. Given the limited space available on transport to the island, the immediate priority was for medical personnel and supplies, and obviously search and rescue teams. World Vision supports the emphasis on getting these essentials to the zone in the first instance.”

In the short-to-medium term, World Vision’s focus is on providing complementary emergency assistance such as tents, blankets and hygiene kits, Paulsen added.

Currently, a team of five World Vision staff are assessing the needs of affected populations and arranging for the further deployment of relief-items and their subsequent distribution. More staff is due to arrive on the island in the following days. Coordination with other actors will continue as more information is shared from the assessment team on the ground.

World Vision also continues to liaise with the UN Joint Logistics Center in Medan, which functions as the hub of the Nias humanitarian response to appropriately prioritize the transport of much-needed relief items.

The agency had begun a three-year response in Nias involving the planned reconstruction of schools and education support prior to this week’s quake.