Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Earthquake-hit Nias Island is a haven for hard-core surfers

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) - Most people probably had never heard of tiny Nias island off Indonesia's coast before it was rocked by a 8.7-magnitude quake overnight. But many serious surfers could tell you it's a waverider's paradise.

The island has long been a haven for some of the best surf in Indonesia, attracting hard-core surfers who drag their boards on buses and ferries to the remote, malaria-infested area in search of the famed reef breaks.

Nias' palm-fringed Lagundri Bay is best known to surfers for a right-handed wave that rarely disappoints. It was discovered decades ago by a few Australian surfers who kept it a secret for years until movies were made with images of the island's perfect tubing waves, luring others in search of the perfect ride.

Monday night's earthquake struck about 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Nias, off Indonesia's Sumatra coast. It came about three months after a 9.0-magnitude quake struck a point further northwest along the Sumatra coast, spawning a tsunami that killed more than 126,000 Indonesians and leaving almost as many missing.

The latest quake didn't generate killer waves, but Indonesia's Vice President Jusuf Kalla said it may have killed up to 2,000 people on Nias. However, a Cabinet minister later said initial reports from the island indicated that between 100 and 200 had perished.

At least 340 people died on Nias in the earlier disaster and 10,000 were left homeless there among its population of about 500,000.

Dave Jenkins, a New Zealand doctor and surfer who heads a relief organization, said he didn't believe many foreign surfers were likely on Nias at the time of the latest earthquake, but he didn't elaborate.

His group, SurfAid International, has been working in hard-to-reach Nias and surrounding islands since 2000, educating people about malaria and treating malnourished children.

The group used its knowledge of the area and government contacts to reach the islands quickly after the December tragedy. Jenkins said Tuesday a boat was being stocked to go to the Banyak Islands to treat victims from the latest quake in areas only accessible by water.

"We've got the boat and we had a huge kit we haven't used from the (World Health Organization) that's big enough to treat 10,000 people for three months _ that's the total population of the Banyaks,'' Jenkins said. "We're sending two doctors and two nurses, and I'll get up there myself.''



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