Fri, 01 Dec 2000

Relief work goes on amid foul weather

BANDA ACEH, Aceh (JP): Rescuers continued their efforts on Thursday to find and dig out survivors and victims of the devastating floods and landslides that have wrecked havoc in three Sumatran provinces amid foul weather and difficulties in reaching the disaster-hit areas.

As of Thursday, the death toll from the natural disasters, dubbed as some of the worst over the past several decades in the three provinces of Aceh, West Sumatra and North Sumatra, had reached at least 124 people.

But, local officials and rescue workers are convinced that this figure will increase as at least 66 other victims are feared dead, buried in the mud and debris.

No less than 660,000 people have been reportedly left homeless.

Of the total fatalities listed so far, 20 were found in Aceh, 74 in West Sumatra and another 30 in North Sumatra.

Hundreds of others have been injured and losses are estimated at billions of rupiah.

Newly elected Aceh Governor Abdullah Puteh was quoted by Antara as saying that no less than 150,000 families, consisting of 583,000 people, in that province alone had been forced to seek refuge since floodwaters of up to three meters in height inundated their homes.

"This is the worst flood to hit Aceh in the past 50 years," Abdullah said while receiving visiting Minister of Resettlement and Regional Infrastructure Erna Witoelar and Minister of Health and Social Welfare Achmad Sujudi in Banda Aceh on Thursday.

The floods and landslides hit nine out of 12 regencies in Aceh, namely Banda Aceh, Aceh Besar, North Aceh, Bireuen, Pidie, East Aceh, West Aceh, South Aceh and Aceh Singkil.

The province, which for years has been the scene of a bloody insurgency, has been reeling under the impact of the storms and landslides since Thursday of last week.

According to the governor, the disaster has cost Aceh Rp 891.811 billion in losses.

"The damage includes that to the irrigation system, which totals Rp 11.6 billion, river and cliff works worth Rp 32.85 billion and roads and bridges amounting to Rp 21.2 billion," Abdullah said.

Lines of communication were still disrupted in most parts of the affected areas with some also experiencing power blackouts.

On Thursday, Ministers Erna and Achmad handed over a Rp 3.5 billion donation in the form of some Rp 3.05 billion in cash as well as food and clothes to the province.

In Dairi regency, North Sumatra province, rescue helicopters had to drop food and clothing supplies as the regency could not be reached by land due to a massive landslide.

Chief of the National Search and Rescue Agency (SAR) Rear Adm. Setio Rahardjo told The Jakarta Post on Thursday that some 30 people were believed to be still buried under the mud.

"Given the current conditions, it is unlikely that they could survive as they've been buried for at least six days.

Only miracle could save them," Setio said.

In West Sumatra at least 75,000 people had abandoned their homes spread across the nine regencies and mayoralties hit by the disaster, namely Pasaman, Agam, Tanah Datar, Solok mayoralty, Solok regency, Pesisir Selatan, 50 Kota, Padang and Pariaman.

The toll of victims in West Sumatra remained the same as on Wednesday with 74 people dead and 41 others declared missing.

According to a West Sumatra provincial spokesman, Yuen Karnova, the estimated losses from the natural disaster could reach more than Rp 350 billion,

Environmentalists in West Sumatra have put part of the blame for the extent of the disaster in the province on the uncontrolled destruction of forests.

"Timber theft is still rampant here and up until now has not been dealt with," Edy Dasril of Indonesian Environmental Protection (BLHI) was quoted by AFP as saying.

Edy said that 60 percent of forests near inhabited areas in the province have been destroyed by illegal logging.

Minister Erna Witoelar warned of similar disasters if the government failed to address the problem through reforestation.

"This is the responsibility of the provincial administration and other parties involved in the destruction of the forests," Erna said.

Meanwhile, PT Astra International announced on Thursday that it would soon donate Rp 300 million in the form of basic necessities to the victims of the floods and landslides in the three affected provinces.

"As an expression of our deep sympathy for and solidarity with the victims of these natural disasters, Astra units in the three provinces will forward the donations to the local relief centers," Astra president T.P. Rachmat said. (50/edt)