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Rescue Teams Reach Remote Areas in India, Sri Lanka

Anjana Pasricha

In Car Nicobar island, estimated one fifth of the 30,000 population has been washed away, while in another island, rescuers found only 500 out of the 1,500 inhabitants alive

Rescue teams in India and Sri Lanka are heading out to the last of the areas devastated by tsunami waves. The story unfolding is of more devastation. Sri Lanka says more than 22,000 people have died, India's death toll is expected to rise to over 12,000.

Located far from the mainland, India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands were the first part of the country in the path of the giant waves, but the last to be reached by rescue teams.

The first rescuers report the devastation on the low-lying islands is even worse than in most other places.

On the island of Car Nicobar, authorities say an estimated one fifth of the 30,000 population has been washed away. On another island, rescuers found only 500 out of the 1,500 inhabitants alive.

And without the elaborate infrastructure on the mainland, many survivors are in despair.

This young woman says everything she had was destroyed within minutes, her house and her belongings. She says she does not know what to do.

About 350,000 people live on three dozen of the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Many of the islanders are members of primitive tribes threatened with extinction, and there are fears some of the tribesmen may have perished.

The islands have been rocked by several powerful aftershocks since the earthquake Sunday in Indonesia. For days, people have staved off hunger by eating coconuts. But the head of the local administration, Ram Kapse, on Wednesday said the people urgently need shelter, food and clothing.

"We want tents in a very large manner, because hundreds and hundreds of people have come out of their village, having no shelter," he said.

The islands host a large air force base, much of which was destroyed. One air force officer spoke of the destruction to reporters.

"What you find the rubble, I was standing on top of that. 25 of us - we are only five left," he said.

From the destruction and the rubble some hopeful stories have emerged. Island officials tell the story of a 13-year-old girl who survived after drifting at sea for two days clinging to a broken door.

In Sri Lanka, too, the news was not all bad. Air force officials said about 3,000 villagers believed to have perished were found alive, marooned on a narrow strip of high ground in the eastern Ampara district. The air force is now dropping food packets to these people.

International aid teams have arrived in the island along with medicines and food. But Alasdair Gordon-Gibson at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says distribution of the aid poses a major challenge.

"The fact that the infrastructure, the roads, some buildings, some medical facilities have been made inoperable or unpassable makes the whole response very, very difficult. And this is one of the biggest challenges over the next two-three days," said Gordon-Gibson.

In both countries authorities, volunteers and local residents are racing to bury the dead, many in mass graves. Providing clean water to those left homeless is the other immediate challenge. Otherwise, as aid agencies have warned, more disaster could be on the way as diseases sweep through battered communities.

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