Relief Efforts Step Up as Death Toll Reaches 135,000

Efforts to aid the millions of survivors of Sunday’s devastating quake-tsunami disaster stepped up as the rising death toll surpassed 135,000 according to recent reports.
( [email protected] ) Jan 03, 2005 11:13 AM EST

Efforts to aid the millions of survivors of Sunday’s devastating quake-tsunami disaster stepped up as the rising death toll surpassed 135,000 according to recent reports.

On Friday, nine U.S military transport crafts took off to rush supplies to the stricken resorts of southern Thailand and to more distant airfields in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, the Associated Press reported. One of the cargo jets arrived in the main airport near Banda Aceh—capital of Indonesia’s Aceh Province—with blankets, medicine and the first of 80,000 body bags. Some pilots dropped food to remote villages still unreachable by rescue workers. Other transport crafts were sent by Australia and New Zealand, and the Indonesian government said 42 flights from 18 countries had reached Sumatra by Friday.

Meanwhile, two Navy groups of a dozen vessels have headed for the coasts of Indonesia and Sri Lanka with supplies and, more importantly, over 40 helicopters to help ferry food and medicines into ravaged seaside communities. In addition, the Indian navy, which has already deployed 32 ships and 29 aircraft for tsunami relief and rescue work, was sending two more ships Friday to Indonesia.

However, with the huge world relief drive to shelter, treat and feed millions of survivors finally kicking in, AP said overstretched authorities were dealing with logistical nightmare of getting the incoming aid to the needy.

In Indonesia, tons of supplies were backlogged, with thousands of boxes filled with drinking water, crackers, blankets and other basic necessities piled high in an airplane hangar nearly 300 miles from Banda Aceh—which officials estimate was 60 percent destroyed. Some of the supplies had been brought to the hangar on Monday and still hadn't made it to the disaster zones, AP reported.

"Hundreds of tons, it keeps coming in," the governor of Northern Sumatra province told AP. He blamed the backlog on an initial "lack of coordination" that was slowly improving.

Indonesia, the hardest hit nation, said its death toll of 80,000 could reach 100,000, and officials began to acknowledge that the number of dead may never be known with precision, because the towering waves that smashed into Sumatra island swept entire villages with their inhabitants out to sea.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross and other groups were still working to bury the corpses scattered throughout the city, struggling to deal with the number of dead.

"Many bodies are rotting and still left untouched up to this morning," reported World Vision Indonesia's Jimmy Nadapdap from Banda Aceh on Thursday.

World Vision, one of the largest Christian relief and development organizations in the world, reported that its office in Indonesia is in the process of procuring and distributing non-food relief aid for 5,000 families (approximately 25,000 people) in the Banda Aceh area. The relief goods will include tarpaulins, cooking utensils, jerrycans/buckets, sarongs, soaps, masks and mosquito nets.

The goods are being procured and assembled in Jakarta and will then be transported to Banda Aceh. The distribution is expected to take place within the next week.

In Sri Lanka, the next hardest hit after Indonesia, World Vision Sri Lanka has already sent packs of essential food, as well as bedding, tarpaulin sheets, clothing, mattresses, kitchen utensils and basic medication to the worst affected areas.

World Vision reports that medicine and medical supplies are urgently needed, as well as a means to deal with the decomposing bodies of the victims. Health authorities warn of outbreaks of dysentery, cholera and hepatitis in the camps, if food and water is contaminated.

In coming days World Vision plans to distribute dry ration food parcels, clothes and other cooking utensils such as plates, cups, jugs and buckets to 12,000 families living in camps in the Matara district.

In India, the agency has been able to provide immediate support for around 3,000 families. In the coming days, World Vision will provide relief to 35,000 families, and introduce a seven-day food ration to be manned by 75 staff.

India has officially reported 7,763 dead in the tsunami disaster — most from the southern provinces of the mainland. Only around 700 dead from the archipelago were counted, but officials said Friday more than 3,700 were still missing. An official a day earlier said 10,000 could be dead in the archipelago.