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Scenic Indonesia island marks devastating quake

Written by: Staff
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GUNUNGSITOLI, Indonesia, Mar 28 (Reuters) Tribal warrior dancers and singing children marked today's first anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Indonesia's remote Nias island, but frustrated victims bemoaned slow progress in the recovery.

Lying about 125 km off the west coast of Sumatra, Nias bore the brunt of the March 28, 2005 quake that killed some 1,000 people and left tens of thousands homeless.

''Last year the president came and promised money and a home but since then we still haven't received anything,'' said Akmal Akhir Telambanua, 39, a rickshaw driver living in a tent in this coastal town, some of it still in ruins from the quake.

''There have been many promises. I'm confused,'' Telambanua said.

Earlier, before the anniversary ceremony began in the main square of Gunungsitoli, school children in the interior of the mostly Christian island were still studying inside makeshift tents erected outside their damaged school buildings.

''Many times I feel sorry for my students because it's hard to concentrate on your studies when rain and wind are coming in,'' said Aliran Masniar Zebua, 28, a teacher in Afia village.

Officials say reconstruction efforts in Nias have been hampered by logistical difficulties and lack of infrastructure connecting damaged parts of the scenic tropical island.

''Nias was not particularly well-serviced by roads and good quality bridges and good quality ports even before the earthquake so you can imagine now what the situation (is),'' said Paul Dillon, an International Organisation for Migration spokesman.

The IOM along with the BRR, the agency in charge of rebuilding Nias and neighbouring Aceh province, devastated by the December 2004 tsunami, has been one of the main players in building some 1,450 houses in the past year.

But that is less than five per cent of the 37,000 dwellings destroyed or severely damaged by the quake.

''In one sense there has been a lot of progress but there is a heck of a lot more to be done,'' Dillon added.

Government officials said Nias still needed more funds to help recover from the devastating earthquake.

''Going forward, there are great challenges facing us.

Therefore, everybody should stand up to build Nias better,'' said Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, chief of the BRR, which handed over more than 1,200 new houses to survivors today.

''The pledged funds available today are only 150 million dollars from the government and 85 million dollars from donors and NGOs.

Therefore, Nias still requires a lot of capital assistance.'' For some lucky individuals, the anniversary saw them closer to returning to properly built homes.

''Praise the Lord, I am very blessed to have this house soon,'' said Yaaro Saromatia, a 35-year-old civil servant, outside his newly built brick home in Dahara village.

''I feel very satisfied. I know there are many others who are not as lucky as me. I can only pray for them because I know how it feels,'' said Saromatia, whose home was built by the BRR.

REUTERS DKS BST1714

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