Monday, January 10, 2005

Meulaboh Now Accessible!

The Straits Times reports today (Jan 9) that Meulaboh is more accessible than ever. There are now seven heli landing points, in addition to the two landing points for boats on the beach.

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SAF opens up access to Meulaboh
More aid can reach the town as it improves land, air and sea access
By David Boey

HEAVY TOLL: Bodies being picked off the streets of Meulaboh. More than half the population is believed to have perished. CHEW SENG KIM

REBUILDING MEULABOH: Singapore Armed Forces engineers helping out with earth-moving equipment. Many residents are rebuilding their homes. CHEW SENG KIM

MEULABOH - THE volume of humanitarian aid flowing into Meulaboh surged after Singapore Armed Forces engineers cleared seven helicopter landing points in the vicinity of the town. One landing point is large enough for a Chinook heavy-lift helicopter, the Ministry of Defence said yesterday. It added that the engineers are now widening access roads from the landing points. They are also clearing more areas to be used for storing supplies and as holding sites for vehicles. These efforts are part of the SAF's focus on improving the infrastructure to support aid distribution.

The troops are also delivering Red Cross relief supplies, including milk powder for infants. Singapore has also set up a makeshift clinic outside one of Meulaboh's main refugee centres, while over at Banda Aceh, an SAF medical team has been providing treatment for victims at an Indonesian armed forces (TNI) camp near the airport.

Yesterday, the team treated 147 patients and carried out mosquito control measures, such as fogging, to prevent dengue fever and other diseases at the camp. The soldiers are also helping TNI troops to improve sanitation in the camp.

The work has not just been done on land. Additional points for sea access are also being surveyed along the Meulaboh coastline.

Mr Leonard Heng, 40, a Defence Science & Technology Agency civil engineer, was flown aboard the RSS Endurance last week to survey port structures in the coastal town's wrecked harbour with SAF combat engineers, naval divers and a two-man hydrographic survey team. The team brought along echo-sounding equipment, which will bounce sound waves off the seabed to build an image of what lies beneath the waters off Meulaboh, where visibility is so poor that divers cannot see beyond their outstretched hands.
The echo sounders will be installed on a fast craft which then criss-crosses the harbour on a set route to ensure all corners are covered.

Meulaboh harbour remains clogged with sunken ships and debris.

Mr Heng said the echo sounders will allow the seabed to be mapped without putting divers at risk. 'The Navy says there's a mast sticking out somewhere and there may be a sunken ship below the muddy waters,' he added. Results from this survey could lead to the construction of more permanent structures in Meulaboh to unload cargo directly on shore, instead of relaying them to smaller craft that can land on the beach.

Shortly after he arrived, Mr Heng scouted the coastline and found a patch with 7m of water, ideal for anchoring large heavily-loaded vessels. 'We compared our sea chart, which dates back to 1990, with satellite photographs of Meulaboh and what we see on the ground. The change in the original coastline, underwater debris like sunken ships, strong currents and poor visibility make our task difficult,' he said.

Another problem will be the onset of the south-west monsoon, which starts around April and usually ends in October. 'We don't know how large the monsoon waves can get. But we're looking at what the locals have built before, such as sea walls and breakwaters, to get a hint of what this place was expecting from the monsoons,' Mr Heng said. He added that one option being considered is to anchor barges together so ships can unload cargo onto this improvised dockside. Mr Heng said: 'The SAF can implement 'quick and dirty' solutions. Quick and dirty solutions may not last long, and permanent structures may take too long to build, so we need to find a solution in between.'

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