Aceh villagers still afraid to return after quake

by Abu Hanifah

BLANG MANCUNG, Indonesia, July 6 (Xinhua) -- Villagers that sought shelter in tents erected outside their houses and in wide open spaces in areas devastated by a strong earthquake in the centre of Indonesia's province of Aceh are still worried about possible aftershocks as of Friday night.

The villagers have no option except to stay in the open after their houses collapsed or tumbled down from the impact of a 6.2 magnitude earthquake that hit their area on Tuesday.

Some villagers recounted to Xinhua their horrible experience when the earthquake struck in the afternoon.

Irwansyah, chief of Lorong Ayu neighbourhood in Pondok Bale village located in Bener Meriah regency, said that people were on their way home after they buried a fellow villager when the earthquake struck.

"We frantically ran to get our children out of our houses and bring them outside. It was a school holiday, thank to Allah, that we have our children with us,"the 38-year-old Irwansyah said.

He said that in their neighbourhood, one person died and 10 others were injured.

The village chief said that it was the first powerful earthquake that hit their place since the strongest one in December 2004 that triggered a deadly tsunami. "But this time, the tremor was unusual because it seemed that the ground shook vertically, not horizontally like in the previous earthquakes in our area," Irwansyah said.

He said that the earthquake made the roof tiles of houses bounced back and forth before falling."We had a strange feeling," Irwansyah added.

Irwansyah said that after the earthquake struck, some of the houses collapsed right away while the others fell during the aftershocks.

The villagers put up makeshift tents in front of their houses where they placed their belongings. They decided to stay in the open during the next few days.

In villages of Blang Mancung and Serempah in the regency of Aceh Tengah located about two kilometres from Pondok Bale, the condition was worse since most of the villagers'houses were flattened. Many people were injured when their houses collapsed at the height of the earthquake.

As of Friday afternoon, police and rescue teams have discovered 40 bodies and continued the search for seven villagers in Serampah village located in the valley area in the regency. Those missing were believed to be living in houses that collapsed because of the landslide that followed the earthquake.

The office of the Aceh governor has declared the earthquake as provincial level disaster since it only affected two of its regencies, Bener Meriah and Central Aceh. The emergency response period was extended by the authorities from the original July 9 to July 17. The emergency response period started on July 3.

An evaluation is now being conducted to find out whether or not to extend the emergency period which would depend on the length of the rescue efforts and the condition of the refugees.

The extension is aimed at maximizing the search and rescue efforts, treating the injured and providing for the basic needs of the refugees, particularly food and medicines.

Some 600 policemen and 80 skilled members have been deployed to carry out the search and rescue operations in the stricken areas.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said that as of Friday refugees affected by the"shallow but powerful"earthquake totalled 16,000, with 12,500 in Bener Meriah and 3,500 in Central Aceh regencies.

The agency said that most people in those areas were still in trauma and afraid of going back to their houses.

The agency also learned that 23 aftershocks have been recorded since the 6.2 magnitude tremor on Tuesday.