Mon, Jan 17, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Survivors `terrified to come down'

`AFRAID OF THE SEA' As Indonesia's death toll continues to climb, traumatized survivors are camping in the mountains as relief missions try to reach them

AP , Jakarta and Meulaboh, Indonesia

Survivors of the Dec. 26 tsunami wash dishes and plates they retrieved from their ruined homes in a stream next to their refugee camp on the outskirts of Banda Aceh, Sumatra island, Indonesia, yesterday. Three weeks after the quake-triggered tidal wave left its trail of destruction volunteers and soldiers are still recovering bodies from the rubble, the death toll has gone up to more than 110,000 in Indonesia alone.

PHOTO: AP

Indonesia's official earthquake and tsunami death toll has increased by 5,000 people to 115,229, the government said yesterday.

The 5,000 additional deaths came from the village of Calang, on Sumatra's northwest coast, Indonesia's Social Affairs Ministry said in a statement. The new figure pushed the overall death toll for the Dec. 26 tsunami disaster to more than 162,000.

The ministry said 12,132 people were still missing and 925 were hospitalized. The ministry said 603,518 were still displaced -- about 100,000 fewer than the figure three days ago.

About 9,000 people uprooted by the tsunami disaster are camping in the hills outside Meulaboh town and are "terrified to come down," while another 12,000 are waiting in another area, the UN's refugee agency said yesterday.

Three weeks after this coastal town in Indonesia's Aceh province and its environs were savaged by the giant waves, several areas remain inaccessible after roads and bridges were washed out, with relief aid still being brought in only by helicopters.

Humanitarian workers said the lack of land access limits the assistance to the stricken areas.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it had sent a team yesterday to the village of Calang to bring help to some 9,000 displaced people.

"They are camping in the hills now. They're too terrified to come down to the coast," said Fernando del Mundo, the UNHCR's spokesman in Meulaboh.

Another team was ferried by helicopter to the village of Lumno to bring tents and other items for 12,000 displaced people, including 500 children.

While local non-government organizations and the Indonesian navy have already delivered some aid to Lumno, which lies between the provincial capital of Banda Aceh and Meulaboh, del Mundo said the people there "want tents, milk powder for children and food supplement for lactating mothers."

He said initial reports from Lumno showed the people there were "coping quite well, but those in Calang appeared to be severely traumatized."

In Meulaboh and its surrounding districts alone, more than 28,000 of the 97,000 people are believed to have perished and 57,000 made homeless.

He cited one camp 30km from Meulaboh where 140 people were packed into a dark green tarpaulin tent.

"Our intention is to help initially 100,000 people with emergency shelter and other relief materials and later on to provide them with the resources so that they can rebuild their own homes," he said.

The UN refugee agency hopes to help Meulaboh's displaced population rebuild their homes by giving them building materials.

Most of the refugees interviewed yesterday said they were eager to leave the cramped camps, but do not want to return to their old homes.

"We want a place far from the beach," said 42-year-old Nurgannah.

"We are afraid of the sea."

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