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Indonesian Quake-Tidal Wave Toll Reaches 90

February 21, 1996

BIAK, Indonesia (AP) _ Four days after a deadly earthquake struck, a first emergency medical team reached the island hit hardest by the temblor and the tidal waves it churned.

Officials said no more than five doctors were helping the victims on Biak Island, where 87 of the 90 known victims died in Saturday’s quake. Nearly 100 people on the island were injured and 57 remained missing today.

``Until today, no medical team has been sent to the disaster areas,″ said Amandus Mansnembra, a government official for north Biak. ``The victims are really in bad need of help.″

Thousands of survivors were without food and electricity in the aftermath of the magnitude-7 quake. Waves as high as 21 feet slammed coastal villages in the Indonesian half of New Guinea and surrounding islands. More than 3,000 homes, many of them built on stilts, were swept away, leaving more than 10,000 people homeless.

More deaths were expected, said Capt. Cipuk Udayana of the Biak Military Command.

He said the number of missing people reached 57 today, with nearly 100 people injured, including 43 in serious condition.

He said three people died on the island of Yapen, south of Biak.

``We are concerned about injured victims because the medical team we have is rather limited,″ Udayana said. ``We need more from outside.″

Mansnembra blamed the government for not doing enough for the victims. Other officials blamed lunar new year celebrations and a Muslim holiday for the delay in relief for the disaster victims.

``But the main problem is poor communications made worse because they were damaged by the quake,″ said a local government official who uses only the name Heru.

The quake, centered 65 miles east of Biak, struck as Muslims were preparing for the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

``First the quake shook the village like a giant hand shaking an empty bottle,″ said Yasir Wawan, district chief of Korem, north of Biak. ``Then came the gushing tidal waves, so tall and so powerful that the entire village was wiped out.″

All that was left, he said, was broken buildings and fallen trees.

He said the body of a 60-year-old woman was found under the rubble of her collapsed home, holding her granddaughter in her arms. ``They didn’t have a chance,″ Wawan said.

Aisah Mohammad, 40, lost her husband and three children. She was among 1,400 people who were moved to higher ground on the island.

``I don’t know what to do now,″ she said. ``I still have four other children and they don’t have their father to take care of them.″

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