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Helicopters come to Mentawai’s
rescue

Seven supply and rescue helicopters offered the only relief to the thousands of stranded victims in the Mentawai Islands over the weekend.

Efforts to access by sea the remote coastal regions pounded by last Monday’s massive tsunami were again thwarted by poor weather and heavy seas.

The helicopters were operated by the Indonesian Red Cross, the military, the West Sumatra Provincial Police and search and rescue teams.

Waves as high as 5 meters pounded coastal areas in the Mentawai Islands, West Sumatra, on Sunday, leaving more than 14,000 refugees stranded in 26 villages.

The rough seas prevented boat operators in Sikakap district, the center for the relief effort, from departing to refugee camps set up in the villages.

West Sumatra Military Commander Mulyono said the arrival of the helicopters had allowed aid distributors to reach almost all tsunami-hit villages in the islands’ four districts.

“We hope that today [Sunday] we can drop supplies, medicine and medical teams to those areas,” he told The Jakarta Post at the main helicopter base, which is a 15 minute boat ride from the center of the relief operation.

He said it would take at least three days to distribute the remaining supplies, adding that he expected supplies could be delivered by boat as soon as sea and weather conditions returned to normal.

Indonesian Red Cross head and former vice president Jusuf Kalla visited the relief operations center in Sikakap. He inspected the Red Cross operations posts and a temporary hospital set up there to treat the severely wounded.

“I have come here to see first hand the situation and take note of the difficulties in distributing the aid,” he told reporters.

He said the Indonesian Red Cross had sent four helicopters to help distribute aid and evacuate the injured to Sikakap.

On Sunday, several seriously injured people were evacuated from Sikakap to hospitals in Padang and Moku-Moku in Bengkulu, including a 2-day-old baby who had respiration problems and a high fever.

The Red Cross had prepared various kinds of aid, including 100,000 zinc tablets, 100 solar cell lamps and Rp 5 million in cash that would be distributed to the owners of 516 houses that were destroyed in the disaster.

“Some of that aid has arrived, but some is still in Padang and Jakarta awaiting transportation,” he said.

He said his organization would also fly in 3,000 mosquito nets for the refugees to help prevent an outbreak of dengue fever.

“I assure you that the situation will be under control before Christmas.”

Residents of Baleraksok village in South Pagai district said they had received only one delivery of supplies, on Saturday evening, since the Tsunami struck six days before.

Marlis, 51, a resident of the village, told the Post that the supplies that had been dropped were not nearly enough to support the 183 families living in the area.

“Last night [Saturday], the supplies that were dropped here were just mineral water, several boxes of instant noodles and sardines. There was no rice, sugar or other basic commodities,” said the father of three.

According to the disaster mitigation center, the death toll from the disaster had reached 449 with 96 people missing. Some 270 people were seriously injured, and 516 houses, six schools and two resorts had been destroyed.

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