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Aid Workers Struggle to Get Assistance to Indonesia Quake Victims

Almost a week after a devastating eight-point-seven magnitude earthquake struck northwestern Indonesia, aid workers are still struggling to get help to those in need on the hard-hit island of Nias. Efforts have been hampered by aftershocks, bad weather and the crash of an Australian military helicopter that left nine dead.

About 1,300 people are estimated to have died when their houses were reduced to rubble by the huge earthquake that struck off the Indonesian coast last Monday. There is now little hope of finding more survivors under the collapsed buildings, but tens-of-thousands of other victims are still desperately in need of assistance.

Many are living outside. Even those whose houses are still standing are too frightened to move back because of continuing aftershocks. The U.S. Geological Survey has registered at least 150 aftershocks, more than 20 a day.

Paul Dillon of the International Organization of Migration recently returned from the island of Nias, close to the quake's epicenter, and says people are camping where they can.

"Obviously, these aftershocks are very traumatic for the survivors. Much of the population is living outdoors," said Mr. Dillon. "They may be living on their verandas, in some cases outside of the city, where the traffic is very light because of the damage to the roads. Entire villages are literally living in the midst of the largest streets in the town."

Aid is getting through, however. The U.S. Navy hospital ship Mercy, due in the area Tuesday, will provide much-needed extra beds for the thousands of injured, who currently need to be flown hundreds of kilometers to facilities on Sumatra Island.

Ships carrying food and water are getting through to Nias and its northern neighbor Simeulue, but the shattered roads and collapsed bridges are holding up distribution.

Most transport is by helicopter, but the air bridge suffered a terrible blow Saturday, when an Australian military helicopter crashed, killing nine of its 11 crewmembers. Their bodies were being repatriated Monday, with full military honors. Australian and Indonesian troops accompanied the flag-draped coffins into the transporter aircraft.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is on a state visit to Australia, has extended his condolences to the families of the seven men and two women who died, and says they will be awarded the Indonesian Medal of Honor.