IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Field doctors provide first line of care

Just like in a war zone, doctors in the field are providing the first line of care for victims of the tsunami. NBC's Brian Williams spent a day at Camp Banda Aceh watching the system work.

It's day 11 and Banda Aceh remains in full crisis mode. The field hospital visited Wednesday by Secretary of State Colin Powell is this region's emergency room.

"The helicopters are filled up with water, high-protein biscuits and rice to be sent, to be flown out," says Michael Bak, a relief worker on the USAID Conflict Team.

U.S. Seahawk helicopters managed to deliver 200,000 pounds of supplies while we visited this week. They rushed out with food and water, and they rushed back in, with dozens of the injured, in desperate need of medical care.

"The helicopters are on full capacity," says USAID's Rodd McGibbon. "They are doing 30 sorties a day, probably more. These are areas where the roads are down, so we have to use aircraft. These flights have been absolutely critical to get crucial supplies to isolated communities along the west coast." 

As for the survivors, they suffer from the onset of infection after days of neglect. It means tough medical interventions for the doctors here.

"Amputees and severe other kinds of illnesses," says McGibbon. "Dehydration, diarrhea, [it's] a range of illnesses that we are seeing at the moment."

This is the real thing. It can't be said that Secretary Powell didn't come to a working area during his brief visit to Indonesia. The victims at the field hospital are the lucky ones, the survivors of the tsunami, being brought here for treatment. They're just in off helicopters from a hard-hit section of coastline 120 miles from Banda Aceh.

The children we saw were the hardest hit. We witnessed the rescue of a 10-month-old girl. Severely dehydrated, her mother looked on as a global mix of doctors, pilots and relief workers fought to stabilize her daughter before being evacuated to a nearby hospital. It took just ten minutes.

Everywhere at Camp Banda Aceh, the sense of urgency is paramount.

There is much to do. Refugee camps continue to fill up. Shelters need building. For the stunned Acehnese people, that means using whatever supplies can be found, even body bags.

For now, relief workers face this enormous task with one goal — to stay ahead of the need.

"It's Biblical," says USAID's McGibbon. "It's hard to describe unless you've seen it. It's truly a monumental task, but I think the U.S. government will be able to work with the government of Indonesia to help Aceh recover. And I think that's a good thing."