The people of Indonesia have been devasted by two earthquakes in three months. But despite the losses, the disaster also has reinforced a sense of community, especially on the island of Nias, which was the area worst hit by this week's tremor.
Alessandra Zilas Voas, communications manager for Oxfam International, a group dedicated to fighting injustice, poverty and suffering, was on the ground in Nias shortly after the quake struck. She spoke Thursday about the situation on the island.
Can you describe the physical devastation you saw shortly after you arrival?
It’s hard for me to describe, because the situation was so bad. We arrived by helicopter and had to land in a soccer field because most of the roads were badly damaged. Once on the ground we used motorcycles to get around the island.
Rescue workers were still discovering bodies among the debris once we landed and there seemed to be destruction everywhere. Many people had lost their homes because of the earthquake and others were just too afraid to return to their homes.
This is the second tragedy to occur in the area in the past three months. How are the residents of Nias responding to this most recent tragedy?
People were very traumatized when we got there and most of them would not talk about what had happened. We were there only a few hours after the earthquake and there seem to be a great deal of confusion because some people did not understand or know what had just happened. Many of the residents refused to go home that night because they feared another earthquake would strike and they did not want to be inside any buildings. That first night, many people preferred to sleep outside and stay together.
What are the priorities of rescue teams and other NGOs on the ground there?
One of the many things we identified while there was a need for medical care. Though there are many injured people, there is only one hospital, which was short on both staff and supplies. People who were hurt could not get the treatment they needed.
Water was another very urgent need because the city’s water system had collapsed. Luckily, we were able to fly water in and today we provided water for 20,000 people.
The country was already in a rebuilding stage since the tsunami of December 2004. Has this most recent earthquake created a further setback?
There are lots of organizations working here since the tsunami happened, and for that reason, many groups could get here quickly after the earthquake.
So, on one hand, it was good that so many groups were already here to help get aid for the area. But on another hand, now there has been another disaster and there are more things to deal with.
It has been said that nearly everyone in Indonesia knew someone who died in the tsunami tragedy. Now with reports of nearly 500 people dying in the earthquake, how are these events affecting families and communities? Is there a sense of community or have they been destroyed?
There is a great sense of community here. Since the tsunami happened in December, Oxfam International has helped people go back to their original communities and reestablish their livelihoods. Because many people here have lost relatives, we are seeing people move in with extended family or move in with other groups of people. So in some ways, the tragedy has helped build new communities.
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