KARIM RAJIA, Indonesia — U.S. helicopters yesterday rescued dozens of desperate and weak tsunami survivors — including a young girl clutching a stuffed Snoopy — as the American military relief operation reached out to remote areas of Indonesia with cartons of food and water.
The United States, now spearheading the relief effort, is delivering more supplies than any other nation. A U.S. warship strike group carrying thousands more Marines is on the way to help.
“Look at that, look at that. It’s so big,” shouted a 6-year-old girl, Khairunisa, as a U.S. Hercules cargo plane roared over Banda Aceh, the capital of Sumatra island’s devastated Aceh province and the base of the aid operation in Indonesia.
The Americans flew missions from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln along a 120-mile stretch of Sumatra’s ravaged coastline, further revealing the extent of the destruction. The tsunami, triggered by the world’s most powerful earthquake in 40 years, has killed more than 139,000 people in Asia and Africa, and considerably more than half of the deaths were on Sumatra.
Many of the 60 victims picked up in more than two dozen missions yesterday were too weak from eight days with little food or water to speak or move. The victims included children, the elderly and two pregnant women.
Doctors said they suffered from pneumonia, broken bones, infected wounds and tetanus. Many appeared deeply traumatized. At least 25 were in critical condition.
The American pilots ferried the survivors to a medical field station in Banda Aceh. The ones not rushed on stretchers were placed on a blue plastic sheet, among them a young girl holding a stuffed Snoopy. Some cried, and aid workers stroked their arms and backs to comfort them. They were given chocolate wafers, water, sweaters and T-shirts.
In the shattered village of Meulaboh, an injured man stretched out on the ground, hooked to an intravenous drip that hung from a tree branch outside an overcrowded hospital emergency room. In Lam Jamek, another ruined village, survivors used an elephant to pull a vehicle to the provincial capital.
Two helicopters dropped off 1,800 pounds of soup and biscuits donated by schools in Singapore. At one point, the copters flew low over what appeared to be a fishing flotilla off the coast. There were no signs of life.
The U.S. pilots said the damage was stunning. The five-vessel U.S. carrier group and much of the crew, which moved into position on Saturday, served in the Persian Gulf during the Iraq conflict.
“In my 17 years of service, I have never seen such devastation, and I hope that I’ll never see such again in my life,” said Senior Chief Jesse Cash of Albuquerque, N.M., who has served in Somalia and Liberia.
The American relief operation is one of the largest U.S. military missions in southern Asia since the Vietnam War.
On a far smaller scale, other navies also are helping.
Australia, which has 600 troops involved in relief efforts, is using cargo planes to shuttle aid and sent a troop-carrying ship to the Aceh province. France and India are each deploying two naval vessels to southern Asia. Russia sent three relief planes to Sri Lanka.
Indonesia says its military lacks the supplies and equipment to carry off such a massive operation on its own. It also says its air force suffers from a shortage of spare parts as a result of a ban on sales of U.S. military equipment to Jakarta.