Aid experts report huge devastation on Nias

About half of the houses were destroyed in Nias after Monday's quake Keystone

Swiss aid experts have described terrible scenes of devastation on the Indonesian island of Nias, which was hit by a major earthquake on Monday.

This content was published on March 30, 2005 - 17:43

They say almost half the buildings in the main town of Gunungsitoli have been razed to the ground and people are using their bare hands to search for survivors owing to a lack of heavy equipment.

According to the United Nations, more than 500 people have died on the island following the earthquake, which measured 8.7 on the Richter scale.

Daniel Beyeler of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), who arrived in Gunungsitoli on Wednesday morning, told swissinfo that the devastation was huge.

"About 50 per cent of the houses have collapsed. The roads are destroyed, telephone lines are down – it’s very tough here."

"There are almost half a million people living on the island and they need a lot of help. They need food and water, and heavy equipment to clear the rubble. It’s going to be a huge operation."

Beyeler, who runs the SDC’s bureau in Banda Aceh on the neighbouring Indonesian island of Sumatra, is accompanied by a water sanitation expert from the SDC and an engineer from the Swiss-run International Committee of the Red Cross.

He said they would be preparing an assessment of how much humanitarian aid was needed.

Relief efforts

The Swiss team is working closely with representatives of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which is heading the relief effort on Nias.

Beyeler explained that getting aid to the island was proving difficult owing to poor weather conditions. He said it had taken the Swiss team more than 24 hours to reach the island from Sumatra, 150 kilometres away.

The UN and other agencies are planning to divert relief supplies from Sumatra where they have been stockpiled to help victims of the tsunami disaster on December 26.

Monday’s earthquake devastated a region that escaped major damage in December’s tsunami, which left nearly 300,000 dead or missing in southeast Asia.

It is estimated that the tsunami killed more than 125,000 people in the Aceh province of northern Sumatra.

Aid mission

With the island’s airport badly damaged, aid is expected to be brought in by helicopter or shipped from Sumatra.

"We need to find out what aid is available and bring it up here by ferry. Within a day we can order all the stuff and a ship would take eight to 12 hours to get here," explained Beyeler.

"We should be able to deal with this disaster because we already have experts on the spot, so they can move immediately. The World Food Programme has a lot of foodstuffs in the area."

Jean-Philippe Jutzi, spokesman for the SDC in Bern, said it was too early to say whether the agency would establish a long-term presence on Nias.

"Currently, we have seven people in Indonesia, and we will see whether we need to transfer someone there or whether the relief effort can be organised from Banda Aceh," he told swissinfo.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont

Key facts

The Indonesian island of Nias was hit by an earthquake on Monday which measured 8.7 on the Richter scale.
The United Nations believes there are more than 500 dead.
Half of the buildings have been destroyed.
About half a million people live on the island.

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In brief

Swiss aid experts who have arrived on Nias say many buildings have been flattened, and water and electricity supplies knocked out.

Tidal waves which hit southeast Asia after an undersea quake on December 26 left more than 300,000 people dead or missing. Many were foreign tourists.

Authorities in Switzerland say there are 136 people dead or missing after the tsunamis.

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