Indonesian governor estimates 1,000 killed by earthquake
Residents swarmed over collapsed buildings in the island's main town Gunung Sitoli early Wednesday searching frantically for survivors. A pair of legs could be seen sticking out of the wreckage of one house.
At a makeshift triage centre on a soccer field next to the town's palm-fringed Indian Ocean beach 13 patients spent the night under a corrugated iron roof hoping for a helicopter flight to a hospital on Indonesia's nearest main island Sumatra.
But officials said bad weather - rain and cloud - forced many early flights by smaller helicopters to be grounded.
"I have three critical patients with internal bleeding and serious fractures but there is no space on the choppers," Indonesian Red Cross worker Ahmad Haris said.
"Everyone wants to get their families to hospital but there should be a system. At the moment, it depends on who you can lobby."
The quake struck about an hour before midnight Monday off Sumatra, some 120 kilometres north of Nias. The 9.0-magnitude quake that generated the region's devastating tsunami Dec. 26 hit a nearby area further northwest along the Sumatran coast.
Monday's quake initially raised fears of another tsunami and sent people scrambling for high ground in several Indian Ocean countries lashed by December's killer waves. But no waves materialized and warnings were quickly withdrawn.
Sumatra Gov. Rizal Nurdin estimated 1,000 people died in the latest disaster. Bodies were still being dug from ruins of houses and shops early Wednesday and laid out in front of churches and mosques.
Nurdin said he had spoken to Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, who said foreign aid, including military help, was welcome during the emergency phase. Countries including Australia, Japan and the United States have offered to send troops to help out.
Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew and Minister for International Co-operation Aileen Carroll released a statement Tuesday offering condolences to the families and friends of the victims.
"On behalf of all Canadians, I would like to express my deepest sympathies for the loss of life and the destruction caused by this earthquake," Pettigrew said.
"Our Embassy in Jakarta is monitoring the situation closely and is in contact with Canadians located in the affected areas."
As of Tuesday, no Canadians were reported injured or killed.
"I was deeply saddened to learn that communities already hit hard by last December's tsunamis are again victims of another devastating natural disaster," said Carroll.
"We will continue to be in close contact with international relief agencies present on the ground as they assess the needs of those affected. Canada remains ready to respond."
Japan said Wednesday it would send an 11-member emergency medical team and blankets, generators, sleeping pads and tents.
Australia dispatched two military transport planes with medical supplies and diverted a transport ship to the new disaster zone. A surgeon and four other Australian aid workers were to reach Nias later Wednesday to decide how Australia will further respond, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said.
"I think we should be as helpful as possible," Downer said.
UN agencies were trying to co-ordinate deliveries of food, fresh water and medical supplies by helicopter. The agencies have stockpiles of supplies in the region to help feed and care for survivors of the Dec. 26 quake and tsunami that killed more than 126,000 on Sumatra and left about a half-million homeless.
In Gunung Sitoli, the main mosque was turned into a morgue where 21 Muslim victims were laid out. At a makeshift clinic outside the mosque, volunteers were running out of supplies.
"I have not slept since the earth began to shake," said Dr. Lucas Sapto, an Indonesian volunteer who was treating children with cuts on their faces.
A Chinese temple had about 20 bodies laid out in the tropical heat.
"We are waiting for a hearse. Once it comes, I can bury my daughter and two grandchildren," said Lukmin, a 74-year-old Chinese Indonesian Buddhist, who, like many Indonesians uses only one name.
Authorities in Indonesia fear the death toll could climb to 2,000. Nias appeared to have borne the brunt of the tremor but neighbouring islands also were hit and details of casualties there were sketchy.
Budi Atmaji Adiputro, chairman for Indonesia's Co-ordinating Agency for National Disaster Relief, said his office was reporting only 17 dead on Simeulue island, despite reports from a local official of 100 victims.
"We have to be careful in counting" the dead, he said, adding: "We just have to count when we have seen the bodies."
On Nias, looting broke out in at least one place with men, women and children scrabbling through a two-storey store and leaving with boxes of noodles, clothes and even a television set.