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UN Rushing Aid to Indonesian Quake Victims

United Nations relief agencies are rushing aid to victims of the huge earthquake, which struck the Indonesian islands of Nias and Simeulue. Indonesian Officials estimate between 400 and 2,000 people may have been killed in the 8.7 magnitude quake, which struck Monday evening.

The United Nations has sent three teams of experts from various agencies to Nias and Simeuleu to assess the full extent of damage after the quake. The results of that mission will be known in a few days. In the meantime, U.N. aid agencies are rushing relief supplies to the stricken islands.

The U.N. Children's Fund is sending a ship full of goods, such as tents, high-protein biscuits for children and potable water. UNICEF Spokesman, Damien Personnaz, says it will not be easy to get relief supplies to the quake victims because the airport in Simeuleu was destroyed and communications are down. Nevertheless, he says UNICEF and other aid agencies in the region are well prepared to deal with this emergency.

"It will be a small disaster within a big disaster,” he said. “We are all prepared. What remains to be done, what will be the main challenge is the access to the displaced if any and also distribute the relief supplies. Both islands of Simeuleu and Nias are quite remote even before the tsunami and then with the lack of communications and the airports which have been obviously damaged, it will take quite a lot of time to have a full emergency speed relief operation."

The two islands, which are bearing the brunt of this huge earthquake, were spared the worst of the December 26 tsunami. An estimated 300,000 people in a dozen countries were killed in that catastrophe. Most of the victims were in the Indonesian province of Banda Aceh.

A World Food Program (WFP) spokeswoman, Christiane Berthiaume, says tsunami casualties were relatively low on the two islands because people there understood what was happening and ran for safety into the hills.

"But, obviously, these people are already traumatized,” she said. “This is really not good news for them to go through a second experience of that kind. Not of that magnitude, but of that kind. So, it is going to be psychologically very difficult. But, the good news is that we are already there. It should be easy for us to reach these people. When I say easy, I mean, it is never easy because there is destruction. It is an earthquake. It is not easy. But, it should be easier than if it was in places where we had no food, no staff, nobody."

More than 150 United Nations and private aid agencies are engaged in tsunami relief operations in Banda Aceh. They have stocks of food, water, shelter material, medical and other supplies on hand. The agencies say they will be able to dip into these supplies and make them readily available to the victims of this latest earthquake disaster.