Wednesday, January 05, 2005
AN ISLAND OF GOOD NEWS, AMID A SEA OF BAD
The information seems to continue getting worse from Aceh's west coast, with more areas south of Meulaboh reported to be crowded with desparate refugees who've had no assistance yet. For those readers who can understand the language, Badan Koordinasi Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana dan Penanganan Pengungsi is the national coordinating agency on this disaster, and their site contains bulletins on the progress of opening communications, roads, where various ships and aircraft are operating, and other field reports. Follow "Berita Baru" menu item, and you'll have to dig to reach the full detailed bulletins. Also providing good information from the coast is Jurnal Bencana Aceh, a good example of using blogging software to help a widely spread out team to communicate. I'm just guessing from the acronym, but it seems to be a team from the national election commission, unless there's another KPU nobody told me about. Of course they've just completed the last of a string of elections a few months back, wherein they would have had complete national coverage with their teams of communications and logistics workers and volunteers.
That journal is where I saw confirmed today, that Tapaktuan was in good condition. Refugees are congregating at Blangpidie, about halfway between there and Meulaboh. The road is out of commission for transport from Medan, but they were hoping to have a bridge repaired around Bakongan (south of TT) today, which will open the road from Tapaktuan to Medan, and enable relief for Blangpidie. They report that at Labuhanhaji (north of TT), the pier is in good condition, and could accomodate relief ships. This is good news, it's closer to the southern portion of what seems to be the hardest hit part of the coast. If Tapaktuan's pier hasn't been damaged too badly (my information is that it has been damaged, but whether it's functional now I'm not sure), it could also serve as a relief hub for towns and offshore islands in the area. Please also see the continually updated information provided on behalf of the Mentawai relief effort operating out of Padang, West Sumatra. They seem to be getting more ships involved and appear able to deal with as much supplies and resources as we can throw their way. What Mentawai really needs now, is to have some of those tons of relief sitting backed up in Medan and Banda Aceh, to be dropped off in Padang. They've been buying food and medicine with their own money down there, when what they really need is just a bit of dispersion their way. So if anybody knows any presidents, prime ministers..... Heck, a flight from up here at Utapao airbase (the US logistics hub for their operations) could just as easily unload at Padang as at Banda Aceh. There is also a small airfield just south of Tapaktuan, which has been unused for years.
Now for the island of good news: Agam's family in Tapaktuan are all confirmed safe. As of last night, telephone service to the town is restored, though I haven't been able to get through yet. Number one son in Jakarta spoke to someone there last night (I forgot to ask him who!), and I called him this afternoon. He says that Batu Hitam is ok as well, and that means that Uddin's children would have survived as well. It seems so strange to feel any sense of relief, when the suffering and destruction is so extreme almost everyplace else along that coastline. I'm seeing video today on Metro, showing small islands and stretches of coast. Everywhere, there is a band of obliteration above the waterline, and you can see it from a long way off. How did Tapaktuan come through "in good condition"? Something strange about the shape of the offshore terrain? Proximity of mountains, those miraculous life-saving giants? Or was it the shape of the headland at the north end of town? How about -- really stretching it now -- if the legend of Tapaktuan was true, and the giant Naga of the story (which is commemorated in several colourful sculptures around town) came back to protect it? I have no idea at all and it may have just been pure chance, however I always had a feeling that there was something special, different and even magic about this place. So maybe there is.
I was planning to link to Peter Loud's excellent set of maps of Indonesia so that readers would have a good reference for locating the places I'm writing about. But Peter has now put up a special tsunami page, with even better maps of Aceh, North and West Sumatra, Nias and Simeulue Islands, the Kepulauan Banyak (Many Islands) group, and some satellite photos of Banda. One can see the the differences in topography between badly destroyed locations like Calang and Meulaboh (and everything between apparently), and further south around Tapaktuan, Sawang and Labuhan Haji. (warning: very heavy on graphics, it will take a while to load on dial-up)
With the usual (and even not-so-usual) America bashers still picking faults with the US response, I'll just drop this link for an example of how the up and coming Asian power has been performing. When reporters or pundits throw numbers around in a competitive bid to determine who's the "best" Samaritan, they never mention that the aircraft carrier group, and other ships now on station, C-130's and various other aircraft and choppers, as well as the entire logistics hub at Utapao, Thailand and thousands of service people delivering the goods on the ground, are not included when they cite America's "measly" contribution, whatever it is now. How much do they estimate that those operation costs run per day? Lots of countries are pulling their weight right now, and I'd say that Australia for one is pulling well beyond its weight. China, for one, is pulling well below its weight, and if the conditions described in the MSNBC article still hold true, it should be embarrassed.