Bodies rot into the soil and poison the water in the land of death

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The Independent Online

The road to Krueng Raya is paved with death and devastation, and no one in authority appears to care.

The road to Krueng Raya is paved with death and devastation, and no one in authority appears to care.

A week after an earthquake and tidal waves laid waste to Indonesia's remote Aceh province, bodies still rot into the earth and poison the water supply. Mountains of rubble - all that remains of communities wiped out in five minutes last Sunday - have yet to be cleared.

Emergency supplies, meanwhile, are stacked up in a hangar at the military airfield in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, while the homeless go hungry and the sick beg for medicines. A strange air of inactivity pervades Aceh, located in the far north-west of the Indonesian archipelago, near the epicentre of the earthquake that triggered the tsunamis across the region.

After a catastrophe that killed at least 80,000 people in the province and created tens of thousands of refugees, you would expect volunteers and equipment to be pouring in from all corners of a country of 200 million people and a large army and police force.

But in Krueng Raya, a once pretty fishing village, locals have been left to excavate bodies from the ruins of their homes, with the help of one mechanical digger. "We need 10," says Jabar bin Yasim, the village head. More than half of the town's 7,000 inhabitants lost their lives in the disaster, which flattened Krueng Raya. Survivors are living in three crowded refugee camps, existing on the meagre hand-outs that have reached them in recent days.

"This is our daily ration," says Norkyalis bin Ibrahim, angrily shaking a blue plastic mug filled with rice. "I'm hungry. The children have no milk. We are short of clean water and medicines. We are using petrol to treat infected wounds.''

Mr Norkyalis lost his wife, son and mother last Sunday. Everyone in Krueng Raya has a similar tale to tell. But while the town - a desolate landscape where only a few buildings still stand - has been abandoned, the people have been left to fend for themselves.

Krueng Raya lies just 30 miles east of Banda Aceh, but the coast road is barely passable, blocked by chunks of concrete, mangled palm trees and telegraph poles. The bitumen is pock-marked by craters and, here and there, has subsidence as if smashed by a giant jackhammer.

Yesterday no efforts were being made to repair the highway, or to shift the towering heaps of debris that line it. Mass graves have been dug, but putrefying corpses - unclaimed and unidentifiable - still sprawl, like flotsam and jetsam, across the blanket of mud.

The coastal plains en route to Krueng Raya, where thousands of impoverished Acehnese built houses on cheap land, are a dismal sight.

Nearly every home was destroyed by the twin forces of land and sea. Outside one mosque, the bodies of the faithful lie entombed in the shattered cars and coaches that had transported them to prayer.

In Krueng Raya, Rasyib was searching for his eight-year-old grand-daughter, Tamara. "I've already checked the refugee camps," he said. "I'm sure she's dead, but I can't find her body."

Villagers feel isolated from the outside world. The fishing industry is paralysed because boats were dashed to smithereens in the onslaught.

In any case, people who a week ago lived off the sea are now terrified of it. They are even shunning fish, their staple source of protein, because of its association with water.

In Aceh, a city already racked by decades of civil war, the provincial administration is no longer functioning, and the only action being taken by central government is symbolic at best.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited the ruined west coast yesterday, while in Krueng Raya, local survivors shook plastic buckets at passers-by, pleading for food or money.

At the military airfield in Banda Aceh, Captain Herwin of the Indonesian Army admitted that other, further-flung communities were yet to even receive aid.

"We have a transport problem," he said. "Not enough helicopters."

Many of the emergency supplies that have managed to reach the city have been flown in from Taiwan, and the country's deputy head of mission Bruce Fuh, who brought in a medical team yesterday, said he had never witnessed disaster on such a scale.

"There are no words to describe it," he said. "Along the tidal wave line, there is total destruction. The water came with such speed and power that there was no escape for those who tried to flee."

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