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'I carried his body': Grim work at the heart of Aceh's killer quake as toll passes 100

Sydney Morning Herald - December 8, 2016

Jewel Topsfield – They are clearing a marketplace in Meureudu which was flattened by the earthquake that struck Aceh on Wednesday morning.

Villager Taufik Hidayat, who has been volunteering at the site since just after the quake struck at 5.03am, has seen far worse. "I wasn't scared. I was there to help. I carried his body," says Mr Taufik, sweating under his beanie.

A wedding was supposed to be held at this market on Thursday. Instead drones buzz overhead as police, military, search-and-rescue personnel and villagers sift through the devastation.

More than 15 people have been found dead here alone. A stallholder tells us he is trying to find his stuff – he salvages his mobile phone and several bottles of orange water from the rubbish. He opens one and drinks from it. Police recover a giant stuffed panda.

Meureudu is the capital of Pidie Jaya, the regency that bore the brunt of the 6.5-magnitude earthquake. As of Thursday morning the death toll was 102, according to Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency. Ninety-nine of those killed were in Pidie Jaya.

"We cannot say how many are still trapped under debris. But we believe the death toll will still rise," the National Disaster Management Agency's Sutopo Purwo Nugroho says.

Detectors that pick up mobile phone signals are being used to try to locate those buried alive.

"That's why we have to work quickly within seven days because it is a golden time when we believe people are still alive," Mr Sutopo says. They have been used before in Indonesia when landslides have buried people in mud.

Another 250 people in Aceh are wounded after the earthquake, many severely, and more than 3000 have taken refuge. More than 420 houses, 14 mosques and a hospital were destroyed.

There were 36 aftershocks and many people are too afraid to return to their homes. Another quake occurred on Wednesday night in Aceh Besar regency with an initial magnitude of five, later revised to four. There were no casualties from that quake.

Thirteen shelters for displaced people have been established in Pidie Jaya and Bireuen regencies.

There is an urgent need for supplies. What is needed most now is clothes, food, drugs and nappies, according to Rudy Padmanto, the National Disaster Management Agency's director of logistics. Orthopaedic experts are also required because many people have broken bones. "We also need more excavators to clean up the debris," he says.

Aceh has declared a state of emergency until December 20. An astonishing 148.4 million Indonesians live in earthquake-prone areas.

"In Pidie Jaya many people died because the buildings are not earthquake-resistant," Mr Sutopo said. "The earthquake in Pidie Jaya reminds us of the importance of mitigation efforts." "We cannot say when an earthquake will happen but we have a map of these areas."

In the village Ulee Gle, a two-storey religious education and cultural centre resembles a shipwreck. Its caretaker Abdul Hanan tells us he was reading the Koran, waiting to sound the call to prayer when the earthquake hit. "I tried to stand up twice but I fell over both times," he says.

"I crawled to the stairs (outside the building)." It was only then that the centre, which the villagers had saved for years to build, collapsed. Abdul Hanan has no doubt God saved him.

The road in Meureudu is riven with massive cracks, into which people have poked red warning flags and foliage. A table with an incongruously cheerful floral tablecloth is in the middle of the road to warn traffic.

In the village of Trienggadeng, Faisal Marwan still appears stunned. He sits on a plastic chair, a makeshift bandage around his knee, on the side of the road.

Mr Faisal was up with his sick nine-month-old son when the quake struck. He tried to reach the door but the quake kept slamming him against the walls. Eventually he jumped from his second floor home, damaging his knee.

His neighbours were not so lucky. He shows us a photo of Syahrul Gunawan, who had started at the neighbouring roadside food stall two days ago. The photo shows him trapped under the building.

He is still alive in the photo but his abdomen was crushed and he died in hospital. On the other side of his home a couple and their son died. "The family that died were like parents to me, I had known them for so long," Mr Faisal says.

Save the Children, speaking through its local partner Yayasan Sayangi Tunas Cilik (YSTC), said it had significant concerns for the physical and psychological well-being of children affected by the Sumatra earthquake.

"Children will be experiencing a community that is grappling with fear and uncertainty after having its life uprooted," said YSTC's humanitarian manager, Ronald Sianipar.

"We must also be aware of the psychological impact these events can cause. Aceh is still living with the trauma of the 2004 [Boxing Day] tsunami and yesterday's earthquake will trigger strong and possibly dark memories among survivors of that event."

The National Disaster Management Agency will send tents, generators, food, body bags and folding beds worth 3.5 billion rupiah ($350,000). Mr Sutopo said Indonesia had not asked for international assistance because its own resources were sufficient.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/world/i-carried-his-body-grim-work-at-the-heart-of-acehs-killer-quake-as-toll-passes-100-20161208-gt7182.html