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Indonesia Relief Effort Moves into High Gear


More than two weeks after Southern Asia's devastating earthquake and tsunami, aid in significant amounts is beginning to reach isolated groups of survivors in Indonesia's Aceh province.

The one-runway airport of Banda Aceh, which used to handle three commercial flights a day, is bursting at the seams. Under skies dark with rain clouds, giant transport planes pound down its narrow runway with food and emergency aid.

Officials say the airport is handling more than 200 flights a day, carrying hundreds of tons of supplies. Much of the aid is transferred to trucks for delivery to displaced people in the area surrounding Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh Province on Indonesia's northern Sumatra island.

But some communities have been cut off from Banda Aceh because of destroyed roads, in particular Meulaboh, 100 kilometers down the western coast.

From a muddy football field, helicopters from a U.S. aircraft carrier group, Abraham Lincoln, are carrying out 200 missions daily, airlifting some 120 tons a day of supplies to isolated villages.

A spokesman for the U.S. naval task force in Indonesia, Lieutenant Commander John Bernard, says the operation is going well, despite a week of heavy rains.

"I can say that relief is reaching Meulaboh. I cannot say that it is reaching everyone. I think it will be quite some time before everything is accounted for," he said.

The International Organization for Migration, IOM, has announced that the first overland shipment of aid reached Meulaboh Tuesday after traveling for three days from Medan, on the other side of Sumatra island.

IOM logistics coordinator, Pierre King, explains that delivering supplies by road from Banda Aceh is impossible.

"Forty bridges have been destroyed to reach Meulaboh, so you have to take options through the mountains," he said.

Mr. King says the best way to deliver aid in the quantities needed is through sea ports, but the ports of Banda Aceh and Meulaboh are unusable and the only operating port in the region is Medan.

As a result, the Indonesian government is considering using military landing craft in the Meulaboh area to deliver aid from ships anchored off the coast.