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Indonesian Quake Survivor Says Many Killed, Still Trapped

As ships and helicopters rush aid to the victims of Monday's 8.7 earthquake off the west coast of Indonesia's Sumatra Island, shocked survivors from hard-hit Nias Island are arriving at the port town of Sibolga. They say much of Nias's infrastructure has been destroyed, houses and buildings damaged, and people remain trapped underneath the rubble.

Around 30 tired men arrived by ship at the western Sumatra town of Sibolga Wednesday from the island of Nias.

One of them, Clive Carlin, arrived on Nias a month ago with the Australian aid organization Zero to One Foundation, which builds homes for those in need. He was there to build new homes for those who left homeless by the December 26th earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 300,000 across the Indian Ocean.

The 60-year-old Australian was in his house when the earthquake struck Monday night.

"By the time I'd taken three or four steps outside the little house that I'm living in, I couldn't walk any further, the ground was moving so much," said Mr. Carlin. "It was incredible."

The quake struck close to the epicenter of last December's disaster, prompting fears of a new tsunami.

Countries across the Pacific Rim were placed on alert and people in coastal areas fled to high ground, but no huge waves came.

But the residents of Nais, still recovering from the first quake, were left with another catastrophe to deal with.

"It's happened to them again," said Mr. Carlin. "They're rebuilding themselves, the work that they've done off their own back has been staggering. But now they've got to go through it again."

After the quake struck, Mr. Carlin and around 30 others piled into trucks and made their way to the biggest town, Gunung Sitoli, picking up children and old people along the way.

"There's damage all the way across the island," he said. "Cracks in the road, buildings fallen over, sometimes across the road. And the road wasn't that good at the best of times anyway, but a lot of it is just collapsed now, and the road's entrance that go up to bridges have sometimes just dropped half a meter, so you've got to try and find stout logs and things to drive up to those [bridges]."

Delivering food, medicine, and aid to the survivors has been made difficult by damage down to the island's airport. Only helicopters and small aircraft can land.

Communications are down, and the entire island has been left without electricity, making it hard for the government to assess the damage and the community's immediate needs.

Mr. Carlin says he was not prepared for the desperation he encountered when he and his team arrived in Gunung Sitoli to find a ship to take them to Sibolga. Because his construction truck has a small crane, people thought they were from a rescue team.

"A woman came to us and said 'please my daughter's still alive underneath this, I can hear her still talking to me.' And we went with her and she said it will be really easy. And she's underneath like a two story building," said Mr. Carlin. "And she said she's just a few meters inside there and we just couldn't go in, we couldn't take anything off because of the risk to the structure. And there's no way that you could risk your life crawling inside there just to even give her water."

Mr. Carlin says even while this woman was calling for her daughter, other desperate people pleaded for their help to rescue loved ones trapped beneath the rubble.

Mr. Carlin says although little aid has managed to reach the island yet, he has been deeply moved by the way the people of Nias have been helping each other, providing shelter and food to those in need.