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October 8, 2009

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Aid finally reaches remote quake-hit areas

AID workers reached farther into Indonesia's disaster zone yesterday, delivering food and water for the first time to villages cut off for a week by earthquake-triggered landslides.

House after house in the village of Lubuk Laweh lay toppled, their owners scrounging through them for tarps and other belongings. Children ran into the street crying "please, help me" as a truck convoy of food and water supplies rattled in.

Large parts of the provincial capital of Padang and nearby villages were destroyed in the September 30 quake. The official death toll was 704 but could reach into the thousands. About 180,000 buildings -- half of them homes -- were severely damaged, Indonesia's disaster management agency said.

Many villages were swept away by landslides in the hilly terrain to Padang's north. Roads were severed or so badly damaged that they are only passable on foot or motorbike, prompting some survivors to complain that aid was too slow in coming.

"I lost everything," said Yur, 42, a mother of six as she crouched outside her house that was crushed by a fallen palm tree. "We are living on donations. We sleep in the neighbor's house. I'm scared the baby will get sick," said Yur, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.

Aid workers gave out bottled water and packets of instant noodles in the village in the first major aid delivery to reach it. The road to the village had been blocked by debris.

Aid workers from at least 20 countries are descending on West Sumatra, including the largest contingent of United States military since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed around 130,000 people in nearby Aceh province.

Like most of Indonesia, West Sumatra province had no functioning health system even before the quake and an influx of international aid has prompted all sorts of people to seek help.

"We have treated nearly 400 people in the past four days," said Yoshi Kazu Yamada, the deputy of a Japanese medical team in Padang Pariaman district, where about 100 people were lining up outside tents waiting for treatment.


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