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Padang, Sumatra: Arriving in the quake zone

News Blog October 8th, 2009 at 1:27 pm 
Oxfam’s Laura Eldon sets the scene in Padang

The departures lounge in Jakarta was a hive of activity this morning as I waited for my connecting flight to Padang. Half the room seemed to be filled with medical workers and rescue teams preparing to fly out and take part in the massive aid effort being launched to help people affected by last week’s deadly earthquake. This time last week I was in Oxford, working with colleagues in East Africa to publicise the developing food crisis in the region. Flying out to the earthquake-hit zone, I’m struck by a very different type of emergency.

Chatting to my neighbour on the plane, he tells me that his family were in Padang when the earthquake hit. Thankfully they managed to escape with a few small cracks in their house. Some of his other friends weren’t so lucky and are among the hundreds of thousands of people whose homes were destroyed.

 

Sandwiched between the sea and the mountains, Padang, and the surrounding areas are no strangers to natural disasters. Earthquakes have hit here before, but this one was especially devastating. Around 700 people lost their lives, with as many again still thought missing. Water and electricity supplies were badly damaged and there are real concerns about the potential spread of disease.

Driving down the city’s main street, we pass by several public buildings in ruins and many others sporting some dangerous looking cracks. Travelling over a bridge, we see hundreds of people clustered down by the river – using the water to wash, I’m told, as most houses are still without proper water supplies.

Oxfam had relief supplies stockpiled in the area before the earthquake hit, and was one of the first agencies to begin distributions of aid. Our staff are currently busy organising distributions of clean water, shelter and hygiene supplies to provide support to around 150,000 people.

We’re most concerned about communities in isolated rural areas outside of the city. Several colleagues returned from a two-day field trip to the north of Padang this evening. It’s these areas that have been worst hit, but despite the massive destruction, they report that people remain stoical. As our response gathers pace, the team here is working round the clock to make sure they have access to the basic facilities they need.

Find out more: East Asia Disasters Appeal

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