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Survivors overwhelm hospitals



Published: Wed, January 5, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Cows on a runway forced the closing of a main airport, delaying aid delivery.

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) -- Haggard and dehydrated survivors of Asia's tsunami catastrophe flooded hospitals in the disaster zone Tuesday, posing a new challenge for the global relief operation.

A 5.8-magnitude quake, the latest of numerous aftershocks stemming from the monstrous temblor that spawned the tsunami, rattled India's Andaman Islands early today. There were no immediate reports of further injury or damage in the region, which was hard hit by the killer waves.

As Secretary of State Colin Powell and other U.S. officials toured the region, the fragility of the aid network was exposed when a cargo plane hit a herd of cows on an Indonesian runway, temporarily shutting down an airport vital to the effort to feed and clothe the homeless.

Another gripping tale of survival emerged from the Dec. 26 disaster that killed an estimated 150,000 people and left 5 million in need. Officials said an Indonesian man swept out to sea was found alive, afloat on tree branches and debris about 100 miles from shore.

Survivors, however, faced a newly emerging aid bottleneck as a growing fleet of helicopters picked up the injured and sick from ravaged villages and ferried them to overcrowded and undersupplied hospitals in the cities.

About a dozen people lay on stretchers on the sidewalk outside Fakina Hospital in Banda Aceh, provincial capital of Indonesia's hard-hit island of Sumatra. Many of the hospital's rooms had no power, walls were speckled with blood and doctors had run out of stands for intravenous fluid bags, hanging them instead from cords strung across the ceiling.

"It's heartbreaking," said Leslie Ansag of Everett, Wash., a Navy medic from the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier off Sumatra to help the rescue and recovery effort.

Aid needs

The focus on aid needs intensified as world leaders headed to southern Asia to get a close look at the damage and work out a relief plan at a donor conference Thursday in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta.

Powell, who visited Thailand and Indonesia on Tuesday, pledged America's full support. The United States "will certainly not turn away from those in desperate need," he said.

He said the outpouring of American aid and humanitarian help -- the government has pledged $350 million and citizens are donating tens of millions more -- could help Muslims see the United States in a better light.

"What it does in the Muslim world, the rest of the world, is giving an opportunity to see American generosity, American values in action," said Powell, who is accompanied by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a brother of President Bush.

Japan, which has pledged $500 million to aid efforts and is preparing to dispatch soldiers and aircraft to the disaster zone, sent a 20-member military team Tuesday to study the region's needs.

Closed airport

The main airport in Banda Aceh was closed for most of the day after a Boeing 737 relief plane hit cows that had wandered onto the runway. The closure stopped planes from using the airfield until the plane could be dragged away, although helicopters kept flying in and out. There was no word on how many aid flights were delayed.

Thursday's aid conference in Jakarta and a subsequent disaster meeting in Kobe, Japan, are to focus on southern Asia's need for a sensor system to issue early warnings of tsunami.

Experts say such a system would have cut casualties substantially, and the Thai government on Tuesday removed the head of its meteorological department, Suparerk Thantiratanawong, for failing to warn the nation of the impending disaster. More than 5,000 people were killed when waves slammed into Thai coastal communities.

"If he warned, the death toll would definitely have been minimized," Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters.

Suparerk was assigned to work for six months to help develop a warning system similar to one the Japanese government uses to issue tsunami alerts within minutes of underwater earthquakes. Thai officials said they hoped for technical aid from Washington.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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