U.S. navy hospital joins relief effort in Nias

Wednesday, April 6, 2005
By nias

Wednesday, April 06, 2005 The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A U.S. navy hospital ship arrived off the coast of Nias island on Tuesday, joining a big international relief effort to provide medical help and food aid for hundreds of thousands of people affected by the March 28 earthquake.

Joining the USNS Niagara Falls, which dropped anchor on Monday off Nias, the 1,000-bed USNS Mercy will provide aid both aboard and ashore with a range of medical specialties, including trauma, surgical support, orthopedics, ob-gyn, pediatrics, dental treatment and laboratory facilities.

All of those services, however, will not be immediately available, as the crew awaits the arrival of doctors and nurses from the United States, expected later this week.

"The ship will initially have one operating room, which can be used up to 12 hours per day as well as two intensive care units (ICU). Once it picked up more staff on Sibolga, it would have about 175 extra medical personnel, five ICU beds, 45 regular beds and three operating rooms. X-ray suites, laboratories and CAT-scan equipment would also be operational when the extra crew arrives," Captain Rick Morrison, deputy surgeon for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, told AFP on Tuesday.

Medical help also came from the Russian mobile hospital, which has been in Nias since Friday, with 33 rescuers, doctors and nurses along with two specially trained search dogs and medical equipment.

The medical team has provided assistance for around 48 patients, mostly with broken bones.

"We also provide one helicopter, as well as an airplane placed at Polonia airport in Medan," head of the Russian team Vladimir Boreiko said during a press conference on Tuesday.

A Hungarian rescue team has also arrived, working together with rescuers from Australia, the Republic of Korea and Japan.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, delivered some 500 baskets of food as well as three four-wheel drive ambulances and six motorbikes handed to the Indonesian Red Cross. Seventeen more ambulances were reportedly on the way.

However, some reports said that foreign rescue teams were preparing to leave after spending a week sifting through the debris of thousands of collapsed buildings.

Boreiko said the Russian team would be in Nias for two weeks unless the Indonesian government asked them to continue the mission.

An estimated 1,300 people were believed to have been killed during last week's quake, most of those on Nias, but fatalities also have been reported on neighboring Simeulue island and nearby Singkil regency in Aceh.

Gunung Sitoli town, the capital of Nias, was worst affected, with at least 600 bodies recovered according to police reports, in addition there were more than 3,000 people injured and some 7,000 buildings, including hospitals, that were destroyed.

Relief groups have taken around 430 seriously injured people to hospitals on mainland Sumatra. A city health official in Medan told AFP that around 300 Nias residents were in intensive care units in 10 hospitals in Medan.

Meanwhile, UNICEF said some 15,000 families were homeless in Nias, with half of them living in houses of relatives and friends and about 7,500 others were without shelter.

Some people were unable to get home after being treated for their injuries, such as Beil Mefu Wao, 17, who was taken by helicopter on Friday to a hospital with injuries to his head and limbs.

However, after being released from the hospital, he had no way to return home to Sorake village, some 140 kilometers southeast of Gunung Sitoli.

"I do not know how I can get home," said Wao in tears, sitting near the hospital. "I want to go home, I have been declared healthy, but I do not know how I can get home.

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April 2005