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Getting Aid to Interior of Quake Struck Indonesian Island Difficult

VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins has spent the last three days on the Indonesian island of Nias, which suffered most of the damage from the massive earthquake that struck the region on Monday. She traveled from the regional capital, Gunung Sitoli, into the interior of the island, and described the death and destruction she saw with Barry Kalb in our Hong Kong bureau.

KALB: “Nancy, you've been there for a couple of days now on the island of Nias, and we've heard stories of how difficult it's been for the relief agencies to get goods in and to get them out to the people. How would you say the overall relief effort is going?”

COLLINS: “I think it's going as well as can be expected. Certainly, here in the capital, Gunung Sitoli, things are organized. They're delivering food, they're delivering water, they're delivering tents for people that need them. I think the people are getting the things that they need.

The problem is in the interior, because it's thickly forested, and they can't land helicopters there, so it's just a logistical problem. It will take them longer to get in there because the roads are so bad.”

KALB: “It's a different set of problems than they had in Aceh Province after the tsunami in December?”

COLLINS: “Yes it is, because, in Aceh, everything was destroyed. There was nothing left. But they were able to take their helicopters and land pretty much anywhere, where[as] here, there are so many trees, there's so much thick forest.”

KALB: “I understand that you got into the countryside yourself today. How did you get there?”

Residents stand outside earthquake-damaged homes on Nias island, Wednesday
COLLINS: “I took a motorbike. It's the only vehicle that can get in there. But even so, it was a very difficult journey. We often had to get down and walk, because the roads are buckled. It's incredible the damage that was done during the earthquake. And we would see people all along the road coming out in villages, and they were asking us, ‘Is aid coming?’ They were telling us they were hungry, they needed food, they needed rice, they needed water. We also saw a lot of homes that had been damaged. I saw more damage in the interior than I did in Gunung Sitoli.”

Also a lot of houses had flags at half-staff, which is a symbol here of a death in the family, and people were holding funerals for their family members that had died. Across the roads, they would strew tarpaulin and plastic, they're living on the road, actually.”

KALB: “So what are the people doing? Are they just sitting on the island and waiting for the help to come?”

COLLINS: "No. I was down at the port today, and hundreds of people are down at the port, carrying any belongings that they've been able to salvage from their homes, and they're fleeing the island. They're taking any kind of boat that they can get and I talked to quite a few people, and they all pretty much said the same thing: they're afraid, they just don't want to stay here, they simply want to get off the island, they don't feel safe.

I did ask if they would be coming back, and most people just said, 'I don't know,' and I think that's because they're pretty traumatized, right now. There's a lot of aftershocks, and it's been very scary for people. Also, here in Gunung Sitoli, they're still pulling people from buildings, and, I think, that has a really negative impact on morale as well."