BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — Pilots dropped food to Indonesian villagers stranded among bloating corpses yesterday as up to 5 million people around the tsunami-struck Indian Ocean rim struggled to stay alive without clean water and food.
With the death toll topping 117,000, a U.S. Navy flotilla from Hong Kong raced to the shores of Sumatra, and an American cargo plane touched down in the Sumatran city of Medan with relief supplies and body bags.
The death toll in Indonesia could reach 400,000, because many affected areas remain beyond the reach of rescue operations, Indonesia’s ambassador to Malaysia told reporters, the Malaysia Star newspaper reported.
The ambassador, Prince Rusdihardjo, said his estimate was based on air surveillance by Indonesian authorities, who found no signs of life in places such as Meulaboh, Pulau Simeulue and Tapak Tuan while several islands off the western coast of Sumatra had “disappeared.”
“There are so many affected areas that we have not reached yet, where there is no communication and the final count might reach 400,000,” the Star newspaper quoted Mr. Rusdihardjo as saying on its Web site (thestar.com.my).
Along with the airport at Medan, officials converted a Thai navy air base used by U.S. bombers during the Vietnam War into a hub for the colossal international relief effort, which also will include humanitarian operations for Sri Lanka and India.
“As soon as we received word that the earthquake victims needed our help, we immediately activated forces to provide assistance,” said Col. Mark Schissler, commander of the 374th Airlift Wing at Yokota Air Base, just outside Tokyo.
Relief efforts suffered a hitch when a false alarm of more killer waves sparked panic in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand and sent survivors and aid workers fleeing.
Indian women at a makeshift camp in a marriage hall said their children were going hungry.
“For the past few days, we were at least getting food,” said Selvi, 35, who uses one name. “Today, we didn’t even get that because aid workers fled the town after a fresh alert was issued this morning.”
The false alarm from the Indian government was just one of the new and sometimes unexpected threats facing survivors.
Police in a devastated provincial capital of Indonesia stripped looters of their clothing and forced them to sit on the street as a warning to others.
Sister Charity, a 32-year-old nun rescued by an Indian navy ship from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands on Wednesday, said confused and hungry crocodiles were on the loose.
“As we were returning [to the ship], two or three crocodiles started coming toward us. The navy officers had to fire their revolvers to ward off the crocodiles to protect us,” she told the Associated Press.
In the remote Indian islands near the epicenter of Sunday’s magnitude-9.0 earthquake, entire villages were wiped out.View Entire Story
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