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Relief Operations Move Into High Gear on Indonesia's Nias Island

  • Nancy-Amelia Collins

Relief operations got into full swing Thursday on Indonesia's Nias Island, three days after an 8.7 magnitude earthquake struck the region, killing hundreds of people.

After trickling in for two days, the flow of aid to the shattered island began to flow in heavily Thursday, with international aid organizations and the Indonesian military ferrying in water, food and medicine.

Scores of hungry people lined up for food and water at distribution centers throughout the island's capital, Gunung Sitoli.

As many as 30 percent of the town's buildings were destroyed when the quake struck late Monday. It came just three months after a magnitude nine quake in the same area sparked a tsunami that killed over 300,000 people across the Indian Ocean region.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited the island Thursday, and promised to take quick action to help residents, including getting the electricity running again.

The president says, in this emergency situation, the people of Indonesia must unite to overcome their hardships and rebuild their lives.

Many international aid organizations were already working on reconstruction projects in nearby Aceh province. More than 200,000 people died in Aceh in the December tsunami.

Miguel Gomez from Firefighters Without Borders, says his team immediately made its way from Aceh to join search and rescue efforts on Nias.

"We are very near the disaster, and half our team came here to try to save the possible life," he explained. " We are very happy, because, yesterday, we found alive a child 13-years-old, in the night. All the team is very satisfied with that."

But Francois Desruisseaux, the United Nation's logistics manager on the scene, says search and rescue efforts are winding down.

"Normally, people see rescue lasting about four days. But it will probably go beyond that," he said, "because there are often cases where we can find victims who are alive beyond that. However, starting in the next couple of days, we will be moving on to the emergency and relief phase."

Mr. Desruisseaux says, aside from immediate relief needs, such as food, medicine, water and shelter, aid organizations will be looking at long-term needs, as well.

"Water, obviously, is a priority for the local authorities. Their public works make it a priority," he explained. "However, we have UNICEF, who is providing water treatment plants. They will facilitate also the treatment of water. Oxfam is an important player also for water and sanitation, so they will probably facilitate the distribution of the water afterwards, and WHO [World Health Organization] is providing some water treatment tablets."

The U.N. says travel is difficult on the island, because so many bridges have collapsed, so it will take time to assess the damage and needs of the rest of the island.