- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

GUNUNG SITOLI, Indonesia — Firefighters freed a man trapped in a crumpled house on remote Nias island yesterday, 36 hours after he was buried in rubble. As the first foreign military help arrived, officials said an estimated 1,000 people died in the region’s latest large earthquake.

Later, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake was reported off the west coast of northern Sumatra, the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo., said. The quake, which occurred about 19 miles underground, was in the same region as Monday night’s temblor. There were no reports of a tsunami warning being issued or of any casualties or damages.

The quake, which was one of at least four aftershocks felt in the past 24 hours, was centered about 170 miles south of Banda Aceh, Indonesia. Residents there did not feel any shaking. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu said no tsunami warning was issued.

Residents in Nias’ main town of Gunung Sitoli swarmed over collapsed buildings, searching frantically for survivors of the country’s second catastrophe in three months, after December’s massive quake and tsunami.

French firefighters from the agency Firefighters Without Borders — who rushed to the island from Aceh province’s west coast — used a car jack to free the legs of 25-year-old television repairman Jansen Silalalahi, who had been pinned between a motorbike and a closet.

Two Singaporean military helicopters landed yesterday and distributed food and water to a frantic crowd of survivors. The helicopters also delivered a car, medical supplies, generators and 20 Singaporean troops and medics. A third helicopter was unable to touch down because there were so many survivors at the landing area.

Parts of Banyak island appeared to have sunk by up to 3 feet, leaving some coastal homes inundated with sea water, Aceh province’s acting governor, Azwar Abubakar, said. But despite previous reports, there were no confirmed deaths on the island, he said in televised comments.

Monday’s 8.7-magnitude quake struck off Indonesia’s Sumatra island, about 75 miles north of Nias. The larger quake that generated the region’s devastating tsunami on Dec. 26 hit an area further northwest along the Sumatran coast.

North Sumatra Gov. Rizal Nurdin estimated that 1,000 people died in the latest disaster, but officials feared the number could climb to 2,000.

More than 620 people have been confirmed dead after the massive earthquake, with about 500 of those on Nias, according to a survey by staff of the United Nations.

Andi Malarangeng, a spokesman for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said the president would visit Nias today. Indonesia “welcomes and is open to all kind of assistance, including help from foreign troops, to assist in the disaster zone,” he said

Australia and Japan were also planning military relief operations.

Japan said yesterday that it would send an 11-member emergency medical team and $140,000 worth of supplies. Australia dispatched two military transport planes with medical supplies and diverted a transport ship to the new disaster zone.

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