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Aid groups descend on Aceh quake zone as deaths reach 102

MEUREUDU (Indonesia) — Humanitarian organisations descended on Indonesia’s Aceh province yesterday as the local disaster agency called for urgent food supplies and officials raced to assess the full extent of damage from an earthquake that has killed more than 100 people.

Aid groups descend on Aceh quake zone as deaths reach 102

Singapore Civil Defence Force officers, Lieutenant-Colonel Ng Geok Meng (second from left) and Major Stuart Koh (right), with their colleagues at Changi Airport before leaving for Aceh, Indonesia, yesterday. The duo are part of a regional emergency response and assessment team which will help determine critical resources needed, and are expected to be there for a week. PHOTO: Jason Quah

MEUREUDU (Indonesia) — Humanitarian organisations descended on Indonesia’s Aceh province yesterday as the local disaster agency called for urgent food supplies and officials raced to assess the full extent of damage from an earthquake that has killed more than 100 people. 

Volunteers and nearly 1,500 rescuers concentrated their search on the hard-hit town of Meureudu in Pidie Jaya district near the epicentre of the 6.5-magnitude quake that struck before dawn on Wednesday. But the small number of heavy excavators on the scene meant progress was slow. Humanitarian assessment teams fanned out to other areas of the district.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the death toll had risen to 102 and warned it could increase. Search teams were using devices that detect mobile phone signals within a 100m radius to help guide their efforts as they scoured the rubble. The disaster agency said more than 750 people were injured. 

Thousands of people are homeless or afraid to return to their homes. 

Mr Nugroho said more than 11,000 people have been displaced and are staying in shelters and mosques or with relatives. About 10,500 homes were damaged and dozens of mosques and shop houses collapsed, he added.

Mr Mohammad Jafar, 60, said his daughter, granddaughter and grandson died in the quake but he was resigned to it as “God’s will”. 

Killer quakes occur regularly in the region, where many live with the terrifying memory of a giant Dec 26, 2004, earthquake that struck off Sumatra. The 9.1-magnitude quake triggered a devastating tsunami that killed more than 100,000 Acehnese. 
Mr Sulaiman, a Disaster Mitigation Agency official in Aceh, said staple foods for women and babies are most urgently needed. He said medicines are sufficient for the time being because assistance is coming from the army, police, state-run companies and local governments. 

“What’s badly needed now are staple foods such as rice, cooking oil, salted fish and other foods,’’ said Mr Sulaiman, who like many Indonesians, go by one name. He said people had complained about a lack of clean water, but the problem has been tackled and electricity supply is returning to normal in many areas. 

Mr Nugroho, at a news conference in Jakarta, said urgent items needed include clothing, temporary shelters, heavy excavation equipment, medical tools and specialist doctors for victims suffering fractures.

President Joko Widodo asked all Indonesians to pray for their countrymen in the disaster-stricken province.

“Aceh is not alone,” he posted on his official Twitter account.

The government announced 50 tonnes of urgent aid for the province, including 10 generators, tents, folding beds, baby supplies and body bags.

“Every aid and civil society organisation is piling into the area with as many boxes of rice, instant noodles, blankets and other aid as they can shift,’’ said Mr Paul Dillon, a spokesperson for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which has an assessment team in northern Aceh. 

It will take at least two more days before a fuller picture emerges of how many people are displaced and of the relief effort required, he said. On Twitter, the IOM said one mosque was sheltering 2,000 displaced women and children. 

The Indonesian military is setting up an emergency field hospital and sending two dozen doctors, and the Health Ministry is sending a medical team and medicines. The Red Cross sent aid such as water trucks on Wednesday and humanitarian group Care is leading an assessment team of four international aid groups to avoid duplication of efforts. 

Two officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force left for Indonesia yesterday, as part of a regional emergency response and assessment team to help determine the critical resources required. They are expected to be there for a week. The Singapore Armed Forces has offered help to its Indonesian counterparts.

Mercy Relief of Singapore also announced yesterday that it will be deploying a two-man disaster response team on the ground. The governments of Malaysia, Australia and Japan, among others, have also offered to help with the humanitarian response.

The US Geological Survey said the earthquake was centred about 19km south-east of Sigli, a town near the northern tip of Sumatra, at a depth of 17km. It did not generate a tsunami but aftershocks rattled the area.

The world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia is prone to earthquakes due to its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin. The 2004 quake and tsunami killed a total of 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Aceh. AGENCIES 

S’PORE LEADERS SEND CONDOLENCES 

Singapore’s leaders have expressed their condolences and offered assistance to Indonesian President Joko Widodo after the deadly Aceh earthquake.

In his letter to Mr Widodo on Wednesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that “Singapore stands ready to assist Indonesia in whatever way we can”. Mr Lee also conveyed his condolences to those who lost their loved ones in the quake and said he was saddened by the “tragic loss of lives and widespread damage”.

In a separate letter, President Tony Tan Keng Yam also said that “our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Indonesia during this difficult period”.

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