30 March 2005

UN Teams Arrive in Indonesian Quake Zones

NEW YORK, 29 March (OCHA) -- Two United Nations teams have arrived by helicopter in Nias and Simeulue, islands on the west coast of Sumatra, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported today.  Composed of staff from the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, and the Government of Indonesia, the teams are assessing runway conditions, conducting an aerial survey, setting up a communications base, and beginning an initial humanitarian assessment.

The teams were sent in response to the earthquake measuring 8.7 on the Richter scale that struck the west coast of Sumatra on 28 March 2005, at 11:09 p.m. local Jakarta time.  Up to 15 aftershocks have been reported.  Initial reports indicate that Nias Island, Simeulue Island and the Banyak islands, located off the south-west coast of Sumatra, are the areas worst affected by the latest earthquakes.  Nias Island, south of Simeulue, has an estimated population of 444,000, of which some 1,780 people are registered as internally displaced.  Simeulue Island has an estimated population of 77,751 people, of which 18,000 people are internally displaced.  The Banyak islands, located between Nias and Simeulue, have an estimated population of 5,000 people.

In Simeulue, there are three confirmed deaths and approximately 40 injured, of which 25 to 30 are currently in hospital.  The medical situation seems adequately covered.  In Nias, the assessment team reports that damage was less than initially envisaged. There are still unconfirmed figures of 200 casualties and 500 injured.  The Ministry of Public Works reports that some 85 per cent of structures in the capital of Nias Island, Gunung Sitoli, and the capital of South Nias Regency, Teluk Dalam Township, have been damaged.  Telecommunication facilities have been totally paralysed.  Only one third of the usual power supply is available.  Evacuation of severely injured people to the hospital in Sibolga has begun, using three United Nations Humanitarian Air Service helicopters.  Basic medical supplies have been delivered to Nias to treat the wounded, while tents are on the way.  More supplies will be sent tomorrow.

There are some indications that two islands, Pulau Banyak and Aceh Singkil, are severely hit.  In addition, the west coast of Sumatra suffered some damage, particularly at Singkil in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam Province.  A damage assessment is required.

United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations confirm that medical kits and supplies, personal hygiene kits for women and men and other relief items are in place in Banda Aceh and Medan and are on standby for emergency distribution.

“We have the resources:  the challenge is now their efficient and swift disposal”, said Masood Hyder, United Nations Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator in Banda Aceh.  “But we must remember that we are only here in such numbers because this is the second tragedy in just a few months to strike this island.  As we are doing our best to help them overcome that tragedy, though, so we shall continue to help them overcome this latest blow”, he added.

For further information, please call:  Imogen Wall, e-mail: imogen.wall@undp.org, tel: +62 (0)811 806 82; Stephanie Bunker, OCHA New York,  tel: 917 367 5126, mobile: 917 892 1679; Elizabeth Byrs, OCHA Geneva, tel: 41 22 917 2653, mobile: 41(0) 79 473 4570.

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