Aceh relief airfield reopens

The main airport in Indonesia's tsunami-hit Aceh province has re-opened after a cargo plane hit a buffalo.

    WHO: More than 500,000 people are in need of medical care

    The accident was cleared on Tuesday and aid efforts are back on track to help survivors of the tsunami disaster that has claimed 150,000 lives internationally.

    A Boeing 737 cargo plane skidded off the Banda Aceh runway on Tuesday after hitting the animal, hampering relief supplies at the hub of efforts to help more than a million people affected by last week's devastating tsunamis.

    Seven aircraft, ferrying 35 medical officers, volunteers and medical supplies from Jakarta, were stranded by the accident, although helicopters in Aceh were able to continue to airlift stockpiled aid.

    "I'm really proud that these people were able to pull this thing out of here in such short time and get this airport back open and ready for business," a US military official, Captain Matt Klunder, said.

    Specialised lifting equipment had to be brought in by helicopter from Singapore to remove the jet.

    "Fortunately today we had enough aid and supply gear that we were not set back. Tomorrow would have been a horrendous problem," said Klunder.

    "Fortunately now we have got this movement, we have cleared the airport - we will be ready for business, ready to go."


    The increasing threat of diseases such as cholera and malaria that could kill tens of thousands of people continues to hover over survivors desperate to find water uncontaminated by seawater and sewage, said health officials from Sri Lanka to Indonesia.

    "What we are suggesting is an immediate moratorium on debt repayments from the afflicted countries"

    Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, UK

    Tons of aid, including medicine, has been brought in to Jakarta and Medan airports, but it has not been delivered yet, said Aljazeera's correspondent in Aceh, Suhaib Jassem.

    As exhausted doctors, nurses, aid workers and troops continued around-the-clock operations, world leaders began arriving in Asia ahead of a Jakarta conference on Thursday where the United Nations will launch a major aid appeal.

    A total of $2 billion has been pledged for tsunami relief, the biggest humanitarian mission since the second world war.

    Debt relief

    Britain, with US backing, called on Tuesday for a freeze on foreign debts owed by the countries hit by the tsunami.

    "What we are suggesting is an immediate moratorium on debt repayments from the afflicted countries," Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown told a British radio station.

    "That would then lead to an analysis of the debt needs of these countries, with the possibility of some write-off of debt.

    "We are talking initially about $3 billion in debt repayment each year by the most affected countries," Brown said.

    Medical care

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates more than 500,000 people are injured and need medical care across six Asian nations.

    Many bodies are still unidentified and have begun to decompose.


    In the devastated fishing village of Meulaboh in Aceh, cut off from the world for a week and with about 40,000 feared dead, medical teams distributed bandages, dressings and painkillers.

    Emergency assistance

    "The casualty rates in Meulaboh defy imagination," said Aitor Lacomba, Indonesian director of aid group International Rescue Committee.

    "Tens of thousands need immediate assistance there."

    Meulaboh was all but wiped out
    by the tsunami

    The International Red Cross said it was focusing on Meulaboh, with Japanese and Spanish medical teams now operating in the town on Sumatra's west coast, where the force of the tsunami destroyed buildings and washed fishing boats 3km inland.

    "There is considerable debris, massive destruction of buildings and roads," said Red Cross water and sanitation engineer Sara Escudero, who travelled to the town.

    "The huge force of the tsunami has swept many boats inland. There is a strong smell of putrefaction and, whilst body retrieval has commenced, it can be assumed that there are still hundreds, possibly thousands, of bodies remaining underneath the debris."

    The Red Cross said it would use Meulaboh as an aid staging post as Singapore deployed a second helicopter landing ship there on Tuesday, with 200 men, food supplies and trucks.

    "Over the next few days, volunteer surgeons will join them and we can convert and upgrade the hospital to provide surgical facilities as well," said Singapore Minister of State Cedric Foo.

    "But I think the most important task for this mission is to create a broader logistical bandwidth. It is very important that we create additional access routes by sea, land and air."

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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