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Quick local response to tsunami

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The two-meter wave that struck the coast of Java on July 17 has left at least 531 people dead, according to the latest figures from the indonesian authorities. Three teams of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) have been sent to the affected region - two from the capital and one from Jogyakarta. They have arrived in the devastated area.

A powerful underwater earthquake measuring 7.7 on Richter's scale created the tsunami. In Pangandaran, the town on the southwest coast that took the brunt of the catastrophe, there is talk of 25,000 people being displaced. Figures have to be quoted with caution though, as information coming in in the wake of the disaster remains sketchy and sometimes contradictory.

The little seaside resort is now deserted; everybody has fled to higher ground for fear of another tsunami. Many have been taken in by host families. Others have found temporary shelter in schools, mosques and in the 20 improvised camps built after the catastrophe.

The Indonesian government, Red Crescent, army, religious groups and local organisations have together provided an immediate response to the health needs of the displaced. The need for drinking water was quickly covered as well. At a health post, MSF has donated dressing materials for treating the many injuries.

Local solidarity has been impressive. The people of Pangandaran are still too scared to return home, but unlike the tsunami in Aceh in 2004, here the vast majority of houses have remained intact.

Further east, a second MSF team reached the seaside town of Cilacap. Here there are an estimated 5,000 displaced, now in camps in the four corners of the town. According to the latest information the situation in Cilacap is largely comparable to Pangandaran.

The MSF team has donated plastic sheeting and family kits containing basic items for protection and hygiene. Other than that, the MSF team expects that the need for their assistance will be limited.

A third team explores the region to the west of Pangandaran from the town of Cikalong.