A group of private aid workers battled fierce swells and driving rain that kept most craft on shore Friday, managing to deliver food and other supplies to desperate survivors on the islands hardest hit by a tsunami that killed more than 400 people.
Government agencies pulled back boats and helicopters that had been ferrying aid to the most distant corners of the Mentawai islands and instead resorted to air-dropping boxes of aid from planes.
On a borrowed 75-foot (24-meter) cruiser, aid workers faced rough seas and sheets of rain – plus miserable seasickness – to bring noodles, sardines and sleeping mats to villages that have not received any help since Monday’s earthquake. In one village, most people were still huddling in a church in the hills, too afraid to come down even to get the aid.
Dozens of injured survivors of the tsunami, meanwhile, languished at an overwhelmed hospital Friday. They lay on mats or the bare floor as rainwater dripped onto them from holes in the ceiling and intravenous tubes hung from plastic ropes strung from the rafters.
“We need doctors, specialists,” nurse Anputra said at the tiny hospital in Pagai Utara – one of the four main islands in the Mentawai chain slammed by tsunami, which was triggered by a 7.7-magnitude earthquake.
Inside the tiny hospital, a man cradled his screaming son as staff tended to the child’s broken arm. The 35-year-old described how his two other young children were ripped from his embrace by the towering wave and sucked out to sea.
Health workers also cared for a newly orphaned 2-month-old boy found in a storm drain. The infant, with cuts on his face, blinked sleepily in a crib. Hospital workers named him Imanual Tegar. Tegar means “tough” in Indonesian.
The toll from the earthquake and the tsunami it spawned rose to 408 on Friday as officials found more bodies, and 303 people were still missing and feared swept out to sea, said Agus Prayitno of the West Sumatra provincial disaster management center.
Officials say 13,000 survivors on the islands are homeless. Many were sorely in need of help, which the government was struggling to deliver.
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