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Last Updated: Monday, 3 January, 2005, 02:19 GMT
Tsunami aid reaches remote Aceh
Refugees from a devastated village swarm a US Navy Sea Hawk helicopter.
Some Acehnese victims are finally getting help after seven days
US helicopters have started dropping food and medical supplies into isolated parts of Aceh province in Indonesia - worst hit by last Sunday's tsunami.

Many communities there have been completely cut off since the disaster that ravaged many countries across Asia and up to the shores of Africa.

But it is still proving difficult to get aid to some remote areas.

More than 94,000 people have been confirmed dead in Indonesia, out of at least 138,000 who died across Asia.

About 12 American Seahawk helicopters are now delivering aid from a US aircraft carrier stationed off the coast of western Aceh, near the epicentre of the earthquake.

Over the last few days a bottleneck of aid materials from around the globe has been building up in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, with relief workers unable to distribute it to outlying areas because much of the region's infrastructure had been destroyed by the quake.

"We are relying on the helicopter system because that is the only way we can reach the most remote areas," said Michael Elmquist, head of the UN disaster relief operation in Indonesia.

Captain Larry Burt, commander of the US helicopter mission, said the scene confronting his team was horrific.

"I've never seen anything like this. We've seen bodies 20 miles out to sea. You just cannot describe it," he told Reuters news agency.

One of the areas where aid has recently arrived is the stricken town of Meulaboh, where relief workers estimate that more than 10,000 people lost their lives in the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis.

Refugee camps have now been set up in schools and government offices, and basic food and medicines have been handed out to some of the victims.

But there are still many areas which have yet to receive any kind of help.

"It is probably going to take a couple of weeks before a road network is restored so trucks can reach those areas. I can't exclude the possibility that there are places that will not receive assistance for a couple of weeks," Mr Elmquist told Reuters.

And even when the helicopters do arrive, they often find it difficult to land due to flooding.

According to the World Food Programme, some helicopters are also unable to touch down because of mobs of people on the ground run towards them desperate for help.

As a result supplies are often being thrown out of the helicopters to the waiting crowds below.

Clearing the wreckage

Meanwhile the clean-up operation is continuing in the provincial capital Banda Aceh.

Province on the north-western tip of Sumatra
Higher percentage of Muslims than other parts of Indonesia
Gam rebels have fought decades-long separatist campaign
Year-long military crackdown beginning in May 2003 weakened Gam, but failed to capture senior members

Alwi Shihab, Indonesia's social welfare minister, told the BBC that the authorities in and around the city were currently burying 3,500 to 4,000 bodies a day.

They hope to increase this to 6,000 a day so that all corpses would be buried within the next five days, he added.

People in Banda Aceh are also beginning to wash the silt out of less seriously damaged houses, and dented and mud-spattered cars are being towed away.

Rubble and debris are now being trucked out of the city and set alight along the roads.

About half a dozen elephants - native to Sumatra - are reportedly being used to tow the wreckage away.

According to a BBC correspondent in Banda Aceh, Jonathan Head, there is at least some sense of life returning, although the city centre is still an apocalyptic wasteland.

Traditional markets, many of which supply fresh fruits and vegetables, opened on Sunday for the first time since the disaster.

Banda Aceh airport filling with aid supplies


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