- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2005

LANGKA, Indonesia — Hunger pangs tear at Umm Salana’s stomach when she walks, so she sits motionless by the side of the road.

For two weeks this newly widowed woman’s only food has been a daily packet of noodles the size of a fist. She holds out a hand: “If you have something for me, please give it, because I can’t find enough to eat.”

Her blighted town, deep in territory held by Muslim rebels on the western coast of Sumatra, remains cut off from help. Debris that has blocked the only road into Langka since the tsunami roared inland was cleared on Friday, but there has been no aid.

Langka’s starving residents, scavenging meager rations from Indonesian volunteers, had long since given up wondering when help would arrive. The town lies far beyond the reach of aid organizations and only 150 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake that triggered the Dec. 26 tsunami.

Mrs. Salana, 47, used to live with her husband behind frilled satin curtains in a clapboard house just off the town’s main street. It was a happy existence. Now she lives on the main street by a pile of stinking rubbish.

Even as Mrs. Salana asked for food, she lost the willpower to beg, withdrew her hand and put it inside her smock. “I eat so little. I come here and sit all day, just so that I do not make myself sick.”

The 25-foot waves killed her husband. She cannot find her their son or his wife. Nothing remains of the family home.

“I cannot think I am lucky to survive because I have nothing and no one is helping me,” she said.

Help is both tantalizingly close and miles away. On the horizon naval vessels sit, including frigates from Singapore and Indonesia. Helicopters and landing craft, ferrying aid, buzz back and forth throughout the day.

They mean little to Mrs. Salana. “What have they to do with me?” she asks.

Just down the road, 10 members of the Astri family survived, but in destitution. Toddlers are playing on planks laid across an open sewage ditch. Osinadi Astri, their father, led his family to safety on the second floor of a school building after the earthquake. They, too, lack food. The youngest infant has a festering sore on her chest that needs urgent medical attention.

Ennoor K, a fisherman who lost his grandchildren, leads visitors to a ditch and the remains of one of his friends.

“It has never occurred to me to remove the body,” he said. “There is so much cleaning up here and so many possessions to be recovered that I did not think to move it.”

International attempts to reach towns such as Langka, south of the large town of Meulaboh, might be weeks away.

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