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Red Cross Assesses Indonesia Earthquake Damage from the Air
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Large Buildings Sustained the Most Damage, Landslides Bury Entire Villages
By Abi Weaver, International Communications, American Red Cross
October 2, 2009

Communities along the western coastline of Indonesia’s West Sumatra island are reeling from two consecutive earthquakes that struck one day apart earlier this week.

“The view from the air is quite misleading,” reported Patrick Fuller with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) after speaking with his colleague Bob McKerrow, who conducted aerial assessments of the quakes’ damage yesterday. “Roofs appear to be intact, but they are resting on the ground with collapsed walls underneath.”

Hundreds were instantly killed when hospitals, universities and other large structures crumbled around them.

“We surveyed the affected area by helicopter, and it was like a huge shockwave had come through and flattened houses, schools and mosques for as far as the eye could see”, shared disaster management coordinator Wayne Ulrich with the IFRC in Padang. “On some of the hillsides it was total devastation; it looked like entire villages had been swallowed up by landslides.”

Immediately after the first earthquake, authorities issued a tsunami warning, and the Indonesian Red Cross (also known as Palang Merah Indonesia or PMI) began helping residents evacuate to higher ground. After the warning was lifted, local volunteers began assisting with search and rescue, and conducting damage assessments. Today, relief workers have the added assistance of canine teams from neighboring countries as they comb through the rubble.

Indonesian Red Cross volunteers unload relief items, including food and medicine, at Minangkabau International Airport in Padang, West Sumatra.
Indonesian Red Cross volunteers unload relief items, including food and medicine, at Minangkabau International Airport in Padang, West Sumatra.
Photo Credit: Ahmad Husein/IFRC
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The Indonesian Red Cross has since dispatched more than 200 volunteers, including doctors, nurses and psychologists, to the quake zone to offer first aid services, shelter and other assistance for those in need. Thousands of relief supplies, such as medicine, tarps, blankets and sarongs, have been distributed to those affected,

The priority of the day for the Indonesian Red Cross is to assist the most urgent needs of the survivors, including reestablishing clean water and sanitation services, setting up field kitchens, and treating crush injuries.

With this newest tragedy, the global Red Cross network is now responding to four near-simultaneous disasters in Asia Pacific.  Another, Typhoon Parma, is expected to bring hurricane force winds and widespread destruction in the Philippines overnight (Saturday, local time).

  • Oct. 1: a second major earthquake shook Jambi province in Indonesia, 180 miles from the epicenter of the first quake
  • Sept. 30: a 7.6-magintude earthquake was recorded off the West coast of Indonesia, about 30 miles from Padang, the capital of West Sumatra
  • Sept. 29: An 8.3-magnitude earthquake was followed by a tsunami, affecting the Pacific islands of Samoa, Tonga and America Samoa
  • Sept. 26: Typhoon Ketsana made its first landfall and dumped torrential rains in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos

Sadly, the region is living up to its reputation as one of the most disaster-prone areas in the world. The Red Cross, however, is uniquely positioned to help communities around the world prepare for emergencies and meet the resulting humanitarian needs. 

The Red Cross is one of the largest humanitarian networks in the world. Our more than 97 million volunteers and employees give the Red Cross the expertise, scale and scope to manage catastrophic disasters from the moment they strike.

“A strength of the Red Cross is that we have local volunteers trained in disaster response as well as a stock of critical supplies in almost every country around the world,” said Alex Mahoney, disaster program manager for Asia with the American Red Cross. “Community needs can be met in culturally appropriate and extremely efficient ways because our volunteers have intimate knowledge of the area and their neighbors.”

As a member of the this global network, American Red Cross has committed to provide an initial $100,000 to support the Indonesian Red Cross and stands ready to provide additional support, should it be requested. More than 300 employees work for the American Red Cross in Indonesia where they:

  • support long-term recovery programs related to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami
  • help the local Red Cross and families prepare for future emergencies

For inquiries about relatives living and who have citizenship in Indonesia, please be patient and call repeatedly until the lines clear or contact other family members who live nearby. Telephone, Internet and other communication lines are often disrupted in times of disaster. People trying to locate U.S. citizens living or traveling in Indonesia should contact the U.S. Department of State, Office of Overseas Citizens Services, at 1-888-407-4747 or 202-647-5225.

To arrange media interviews with an American Red Cross spokesperson in Indonesia about the local earthquake response as well as other international disaster responses, please call 202-303-5551.

You can help the victims of countless crises around the world each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance and other support to help those in need. Donations to the International Response Fund can be sent to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013 or made by phone at 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish) or online at www.redcross.org.

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