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Relief Efforts Underway in Aceh

One week after the disastrous earthquake and tsunamis that hit most of South Asia, relief is finally starting to arrive. Search and rescue continues in Aceh, the part of Indonesia closest to the epicenter of the earthquake. Brian Purchia narrates.

The death toll continues to rise in Indonesia, the country with the highest confirmed number of deaths. 14,000 bodies were recovered Monday, bringing the total for Indonesia to 94,000.

Aid agencies are working with military teams from several different countries to coordinate relief efforts for Aceh, the Indonesian province worst affected by last week's disaster. It is remote towns, like Banda Aceh, that officials are having the most trouble getting to.

Help is on the way, according to Mike Huggins, a spokesperson for the World Food Program, who says, "There is a coordinated effort that is going on and it may look a little chaotic, but in fact we all do know what we are doing and in the case of many of the Indonesian NGOs [non-governmental organizations], they are actually deploying stocks that have been brought in by international organizations. So, there is a coordinated effort. It may look chaotic but it is happening and we are reaching the people."

Among the non-governmental organizations playing a role in the relief effort is the Aceh Center in Pennsylvania. Munwar Liza Zainal, the center's Secretary-General, says relief can be targeted based on information from relatives in Aceh. "So, we got information from our families and then we distribute and as a bridge, we inform the Americans about the situation in Aceh," he said. Food has begun to arrive in Banda Aceh, and people are now able to cook rice and noodles. Medical attention seems to be most needed now.

VOA News correspondent Nancy Collins has been traveling with a group of local doctors working with the Red Cross in Aceh. She says, "I do think these doctors are making a difference. Even today, I saw them treat so many babies. They're bringing antibiotics - at least for the short term, they're focusing on survival. I also saw them going around and just giving comfort."

These local doctors, despite having lost loved ones of their own, are working hard to help the those in need. Many whose homes were destroyed have found refuge in the local mosques left standing, while others crowd together in tents, all with nothing left to do but wait.

Nancy Collins describes the destruction that she witnessed in the once-busy capital of Aceh. "The whole landscape of this coastal town has been completely and drastically altered. The only things I saw left standing were a couple of mosques. All of the houses had been smashed -- in fact, you wouldn't ever know there had been houses there," she said.

For survivors searching for loved ones, hope is fading. With bodies pilling up in the tropical heat, officials have begun to speed up the burial of decomposing corpses, leaving many still unidentified.