Over 2,000 dead as quake hits Indonesia

HIS eyes puffy from weeping, Datot Mendra spent Tuesday night (Tuesday) lying next to his wife. Today (Wednesday) he will bury her — and his sister, and two other family members killed by the magnitude 8.7 earthquake that hit the remote Indonesian island of Nias late on Monday.

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By  Richard Lloyd Parry Published  April 3, 2005

HIS eyes puffy from weeping, Datot Mendra spent Tuesday night (Tuesday) lying next to his wife. Today (Wednesday) he will bury her — and his sister, and two other family members killed by the magnitude 8.7 earthquake that hit the remote Indonesian island of Nias late on Monday. “What will I tell my children?” the 55-year-old restaurant-owner cried. “I can’t face it. My faith in Jesus is helping me through this.” As night fell yesterday (Tuesday), and thousands prepared to sleep outdoors for fear of another quake or because their homes were destroyed, the cries of weeping children pierced the darkness of Gunungsitoli, the capital of this predominantly Christian island of 700,000 people off the west coast of Sumatra. Between 1000 and 2000 people were believed to have been killed on Nias — a surfers’ paradise — and the nearby island of Simeulue, Yusuf Kalla, Indonesia’s Vice-President, said. The first television pictures from Nias showed distraught survivors searching for relatives in the rubble of their homes or weeping over corpses. Scores of the injured were being treated on a football pitch next to a palm-fringed Indian Ocean beach, the worst waiting to be flown by helicopter to Sumatra. A third of Gunungsitoli was said to have been severely damaged. There was no electricity or running water. Damage to the airport meant that relief flights were unable to land until late yesterday (Tuesday) — 18 hours after the quake. “Gunungsitoli is now like a dead town,” Agus Mendrofa, the Deputy Mayor, said. “The situation is extreme panic.” He said that 10,000 of the town’s 27,000 people had fled to higher land. “The quake was really powerful,” Yulianus Zebua, 30, a carpenter, said. “The earth was shaking continuously, so we walked like drunkards. We are traumatised.” Seismic aftershocks continued to shake Sumatra as rescue workers struggled to reach the rugged offshore islands. Nias escaped almost unscathed the massive Boxing Day tsunami that killed an estimated 280,000 people in coastal areas throughout South Asia three months ago. Witnesses said that the island was hit by waves several metres high on Monday, but it was the quake not the water that caused the damage.“I was fast asleep when the earthquake struck, but I woke up just in time to escape from the crumbling roof of my dormitory,” Serasi Hulu, 20, a student, said. He suffered a broken arm, but believed that two of his friends were killed. President Yudhoyono postponed a visit to Australia and said that he would fly to Nias to see the damage. Other countries were quick to offer help. Singapore sent military helicopters and medical teams. The United States, Australia, Russia and the European Union promised aid. Though relatively small compared to the Boxing Day disaster, Monday’s quake inspired terror among a population on neighbouring Sumatra that was profoundly traumatised by the earlier disaster. “We went down to the street and people began to panic,” said Yudisia Arafah, a 23-year-old civil servant in Banda Aceh, where whole city quarters were washed away on Boxing Day. “Some people screamed: ‘Water! Water! The water is coming again’.” In contrast to December, seismic monitoring stations across the Asia-Pacific region gave warning of the possibility of a powerful tsunami. .

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