Search continues amid strong stench of death on Indonesian island
Indonesian rescue workers, using traditional tools, such as crowbars, hammers and iron saws, were trying to retrieve survivors and bodies trapped under concrete and steel from collapsed houses and buildings, as shown on television footage from the devastated island about 1,500-kilometres northwest of Jakarta.
International aid workers began pouring into Nias on Friday to help the quake victims, four days after a massive earthquake devastated up to 70 per cent of buildings there.
Reports out of Nias said despite the arrival of hundreds of Indonesian military troops, rescue operations remained poor and slow due to poor coordination. In addition, limited heavy equipment continued to seriously hamper the operation as many collapsed houses and buildings consisted of concrete and steel.
The health ministry in Jakarta said Friday that so far 342 bodies had been recovered and buried, with the final toll feared to be about 500 across the disaster area.
Earlier in the week, Indonesian officials, including Vice President Jusuf Kalla, estimated the death toll ranged from 1,000 to 2,000.
Acknowledging progress has been slow, government officials said it was difficult to reach the remote areas because roads to the areas remained impassible after many bridges and some roads were destroyed or cut off by the quake.
Citing the stench of death that began to pervade the area, residents of Nias' main town of Gunung Sitoli claimed many more survivors and bodies were still trapped under mountains of rubble.
"The stench of death can be smelled along the main roads in Gunung Sitoli. There are still many bodies trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings,'' Indra, a resident of Gunung Sitoli, told Jakarta's Elshinta radio.
Gunung Sitoli was by far the hardest hit region on Nias, known as a paradise for adventurous surfers.
Doctors and paramedic teams were set to reach other isolated areas on the island to distribute antibiotics, vaccinations and other medicines, as well as look for residents not yet reached by outside assistance, relief workers said.
On the nearby island of Simeulue on the western coast of Aceh province, thousands of survivors had no shelter and residents were found huddled in the forests in heavy rains.
An assessment by several NGOs of some districts on Simeulue reported the damage on Simeulue was worse than originally thought, with an estimated 60-to-80 per cent of structures damaged, according to a United Nations report.
"Some villages were completely destroyed,'' said the report by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (UN OCHA) in Indonesia.
Seventeen people were killed and 177 others injured on Simeulue, with the death toll expected to rise further.
With Nias island's airport and roads badly damaged, relief aid is mainly being ferried to the victims by helicopters and boats from Sumatra, officials said.
The U.N. said an Indonesian military (TNI) transport plane skidded off the runway at Sobolga airport, the main aid delivery hub for Nias, on the western coast of Sumatra on Thursday.
As a result, C-130 aircraft carrying relief aid have been diverted to the Medan airport in the capital of North Sumatra, where the aid was then being flown by helicopter.
Monday's 8.7-magnitude earthquake, which stuck an hour before midnight, toppled almost every building on the main street of Gunung Sitoli, a church-studded seaside town.
It was the largest earthquake to hit Sumatra since the December tremblor that generated a tsunami that left more than 220,000 people dead or missing in Indonesia. dpa sh eu blg
Copyright (c) dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH