Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Washington Times Reports on Meulaboh

The article contains a comprehensive look at the situation in Meulaboh, summarises the role of the SAF, and includes this description of the physical and psychological damage caused by the tsunami:

Meulaboh was hit not only by the massive earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra, but being the closest to its epicenter it also bore the full force of the subsequent tsunamis. Major James Yip from the Singapore Armed Forces estimates the tsunamis rode 1.5 to 2 kilometers (0.9 to 1.2 miles) into town and that nearly one-third of the population of 40,000 died, engulfed by the waves. What was once a beach is now just a heap of rubble, with the inhabitants' possessions left for all to see.

Bright red and blue plastic chairs attract the eyes, as do brightly colored toys, bicycles, handbags and shoes. Standing on top of them, a few men and women are trying to salvage things from the wreckage, but many are staying away, too shell-shocked. Two weeks after the Dec. 26 disaster no one is really looking for loved ones anymore, but it is clear many more bodies are still under those piles of wreckage and may only be found when everything is cleared out, Singaporean soldiers say.

Nearly 200 kilometers (125 miles) north off Medan on the west coast of Sumatra, Meulaboh was closed off from the rest of the world for over two days. Even two weeks after the event, it is only accessible by air or sea, and mobile phones are still not working. The Singaporean Armed Forces' Super Pumas were the first to reach the town. The Indonesians had no helicopters to send, as many at their Banda Aceh base had been lost to the sea.

Though the situation has improved dramatically thanks to the efforts of the SAF, there are still many needs:

"The situation in Meulaboh is no longer critical. At this time last week it was still critical and was depending on a thin thread of helicopters to get anything in and out. Now with the sea route established, you can bring in heavy supply equipment when you need it. It's still difficult, but the difference in capacity is huge," [Singapore Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean] said.


It will take months to clear up the wreckages and years to rebuild. For now, attention must still focus on helping survivors. Of the town's 150 medics only six survived, as the majority were holidaying at the beach on Dec. 26.

Doctors and nurses are needed for the makeshift hospitals, as many injured are still streaming in from remote areas with festering wounds, broken bones and pneumonia. Blood remains in short supply, Major Yip said.

Lt. Col. Chin Sau Ho added, "People also want lighting, electricity, water, and basic sanitation to bring back a sense of normality to their life."

The Singaporeans expect to remain in Meulaboh for another two to three weeks, slowly handing the work over to relief agencies and the local authorities.

Read the whole thing here:

Meulaboh: An island visited by death
By Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop
UPI Business Correspondent

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