Aid Slow to Reach Tsunami Victims in Northern Sumatra

Nancy-Amelia CollinsKate Pound Dawson

VOA's Indonesia Correspondent Nancy-Amelia Collins is in the town of Lhokseumawe, in Indonesia's Aceh Province, which was hit the hardest by Sunday's earthquake and tsunami waves. Nancy, who has spent years covering Southeast Asia and has seen many natural disasters, tells our Asia editor in Hong Kong, Kate Pound Dawson, that this is the worst she has witnessed.

NAC: "I am in Lhokseumawe, which is about 300 kilometers southeast of Banda Aceh, the worst hit area. Thousands of people are along the road here. All the mosques along the road -- you can see refugees filling up the mosques.

They are living in pretty primitive conditions, with tarpaulins, laying out their meager belongings. There are little bits of aid, people have been collecting along the highway. It's just an ad hoc collection, local people collecting food and money to give to the refugees. And the Department of Forestry has been loading up trucks with food to take up to Banda Aceh.

Right now, we are going to check on the refugee camps to see how much aid is getting through, because it certainly does not look like that much. … Even outside the hospital, there are just hundreds and hundreds of refugees camping out front, clutching a few pitiful pieces of clothing, usually tied up in a sarong. It does look like people really are suffering here."

DAWSON: When you said that you are not seeing very much relief, why is that? Is there any word on why it does not seem to be reaching the area?

NAC: " It is not clear at this point. In Medan, the airport there is full of aid flights, taking off constantly to Banda Aceh. But it seems to be a bit of a back up of aid on the tarmac. It would be very easy to load a lot of this stuff up on trucks, and take it up on trucks, because the roads are not that bad. It is not really clear why they are not doing that.

Again, it seems to me that people are just taking it upon themselves to start collecting food and money. For the people here in Lhokseumawe, they are trying to give them whatever they can. They do not have adequate shelter, that is very clear. There is no petrol left, and that is another problem. People cannot get any gasoline for their trucks. It is (Lhokseumawe) right on the ocean, and it is very clear - you can see where the swathe of the tsunami came in, inland here. "

DAWSON: You have been around Indonesia, you have been around the Philippines, you have seen disasters in Southeast Asia before. How bad is this?

Residents carry a body of a victim after tidal waves hit in Lhokseumawe, Indonesia
NAC: "The worst I have ever seen in my life. There is just nothing to compare this with, the scale and the scope of this is just tremendous. You can see just on people's faces, how they are walking around like zombies, they are just in shock. Even going along the highways, every so often, you would see a gathering, where people are holding funerals. Everyone is just so completely affected by this thing, I have never seen anything like it."

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