1,000 feared dead … as tremors and panic spread across Asia

SUMATRA QUAKE

Foreign aid pours in as Jakarta draws up massive plan to help the quake victims

BAD weather yesterday hampered initial efforts to rush help to islands off Sumatra’s west coast, where a powerful earthquake struck on Monday night.

More than 1,000 people are feared to have died in Nias island.

Unlike the horror three months ago, when a massive earthquake and tsunami wreaked death and destruction across a wide area of northern Sumatra and beyond, the tragedy this time was confined to the island of Nias and its surroundings.

Unlike the last time too, a tsunami alert went out swiftly from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii to countries across the Indian Ocean which were all hit hard by the Dec 26 disaster.

From Malaysia to Thailand, India and Sri Lanka, people fled their homes near the coast for higher ground and waited anxiously. But this time, there were no killer waves.

This time, people on the islands of Nias, Simeulue and nearby areas off Sumatra bore the brunt of the earthquake, which measured 8.7 on the Richter scale, making it the eighth most powerful in 100 years.

The Indonesian authorities swung into action swiftly. Rescue workers began the grim task of counting bodies and searching for survivors below the rubble of collapsed buildings.

At least 430 people have been confirmed dead so far.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono cancelled a state visit to Australia and ordered an immediate fact-finding mission to Nias, led by senior palace adviser T.B. Silalahi.

In Jakarta, Vice-President Jusuf Kalla convened an emergency meeting to draw up help plans and set aside 742 billion rupiah (S$128 million) for the affected areas.

The port town of Sibolga on Sumatra, 205km from Nias, was designated the relief hub, but emergency aid could not get there yesterday because of bad weather.

A host of help agencies already in Sumatra, repairing the damage done in December, were ready to help out in Nias now.

As the international community rallied once again, the United States, Australia, Japan and New Zealand said they were ready to help.

Singapore yesterday dispatched three Chinook helicopters and a team of 50 medical and rescue workers to Nias.

Presidential spokesman Dino Djalal said Singapore was playing a ‘critical role’ by offering its Chinook helicopters to help in aid distribution.

He told The Straits Times that Jakarta had learnt important lessons from the tsunami experience and was better prepared for disaster now.

He added: ‘Foreign assistance will once again be helpful to us in overcoming this crisis.’

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