Nias needs Whistler's help now says Wahono 

Whistler makes plans to provide long-term aid to Indonesian island

Whether it's official or not, a little surfer's paradise in Indonesia called Nias Island has become inextricably linked to Whistler and is now in desperate need of help.

Over the past three months Whistler has been working to establish ties with the island in response to the massive earthquake and tsunami, which devastated the region on Boxing Day.

This week the region was hit with a second blow when another massive earthquake shuddered through Indonesia. This time Nias was one of the hardest hit.

Between 1,000 and 2,000 people on Nias are now dead and local businessman and Indonesian national Jay Wahono is calling on Whistler to help.

"Now, officially or not officially in people's minds, Nias is our sister city and they are in need, in grave need," said Wahono, who helped establish ties between the two places after the earthquake three months ago.

This week Whistler’s mayor and council expressed their sympathies for the people in Nias and resolved to help the island people with long-term assistance down the road.

"We are saddened by the news of further devastation to Indonesia and in particular to Nias," said Mayor Hugh O'Reilly. "This disaster further confirms our resolve to provide long-term assistance to the people in need."

The municipality is waiting for guidance and assistance from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities before setting up formal ties with Nias. But initial contact with Indonesian officials has been made already to discuss various ways Whistler could help rebuild the tourism infrastructure on the small island.

Though he sees the value in long term aid, whatever form that may take, Wahono wants to help Nias now.

"We have to find a way of helping (them) cope with the current situation," he said.

Reports from the area tell the story of the devastation. Monday's massive quake, which struck just after 11 a.m. in the morning, was measured at a magnitude of 8.7. Nias was one of the closest areas to the epicentre.

In the main town of Gunungsitoli many buildings in the commercial district were destroyed. Some roads leading into the town are impassable due to landslides.

On Monday Wahono spoke to the counsel general of Indonesia in Vancouver, who told him that emergency relief would be extended in Nias for another 60 days.

Wahono said that the devastation there is far beyond what the people of Nias can deal with themselves.

He called it a "desperate situation."

All the things we take for granted in Whistler such as clothing, food and medicine are in extreme need in Nias.

"It's so heart-breaking," said Wahono simply.

In the meantime O'Reilly said the municipality is working on an assistance plan which should be done in the next month.

"The FCM is helping us understand how we might best help Nias and how we can go forward," he said. "We are anxious to help, to do what we can, now more than ever."


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