Sat, 04 Aug 2001

Dead toll in Nias flood tragedy jumps to 50

MEDAN, North Sumatra (JP): More dead bodies were found by Search and Rescue team members in three other districts devastated by Tuesday's flood on the island of Nias, reports said here on Friday.

Latest reports, made available by the Nias Disaster Task Force, said that the three other districts hit by the floods were Lolowa'u, Gomo and Bawolato.

Previous reports said that the flood destroyed only three districts, Lahusa, Telukdalam and Lolomatua.

With three more flood-hit districts on Friday, the number of fatalities jumped to 50, the number of people missing reached 114 and 325 houses were swept away or destroyed by the flood.

The coordinator of the disaster center, A.A. Gulo, said that the figures were all tentative and subject to change at anytime.

Rescuers have found it difficult to evacuate the survivors and to remove the dead bodies.

Several villages hit by the flood have been isolated as the roads leading to the villages have been cut off by Tuesday's floods, which also destroyed several bridges. Helicopters were urgently needed.

Commander of the Medan Air Force base Col. Sontje Djerzond, said that a helicopter was made available on Friday to help evacuate the flood victims.

North Sumatra province spokesman Sakhyan Asmara told The Jakarta Post by phone from Sibolga on Friday that hundreds of refugees at temporary shelters were in a very poor condition, despite the flow of aid.

"They need not only food and medicine, but also moral support. And the governor tried to console them during his visit on Thursday to Lahusa Elementary School building, where 500 refugees are being held."

"Most of them were grieving for their missing relatives."


According to Sakhyan, the refugees also reported to the governor about deforestation of the upper reaches of the Masio river in Lahusa, which allegedly contributed to the recent flooding.

The governor then instructed the Regent of Nias, Binahati Bahea, to find out about the report and to take the necessary action.

According to the chairman of the Association of Graduates of Nias University, Henky Wao, local deforestation began three years ago when local residents planted the lucrative shrubs that produce the fragrant patchouli oil, which was worth Rp 1.2 million per kilogram at that time. Later, when the price of patchouli oil dropped, the people just abandoned the forest.

The disaster center said that food and financial aid continued to flow in for the flood victims.

According to the aid committee, a total of Rp 273.5 million cash was collected from various donors.

The Medan Garrison has also donated food, including one ton of sugar and 500 boxes of instant noodles, which were transported by the warship, Teluk Sibolga.

Meanwhile, Bukit Barisan Military Command said that troops from Battalion 125 Sibolga, one medical team and one construction team had been deployed to the island. (42/sur)