Doctor witnesses tsunami?s horrors
By ALEX EASTON
IT WAS only after he looked closely at the blackened bundle, plucked from a pile of timber and twisted cars, that David Scott realised it was a baby.
Moments later the Lismore anaesthetist and his companions, inspecting the ruins of Banda Aceh, found another blackened corpse. The baby's mother?
It is a scene Dr Scott said was repeated moment-by-moment in a catastrophe so awful it defies imagination.
"It's like tsunamis hitting Newcastle and having only 30,000 people left and everyone else being dead," he said.
"You stand here looking in the river and have to look closely to realise those things floating in it are bodies. Now they're all bloated up and it's hard to tell if it's a body or driftwood."
Indonesia accounts for about two-thirds of the nearly 150,000 people killed by the tsunami.
The textbooks say a large tsunami can travel as much as 500 metres inland. At Banda Aceh it travelled nearly 13km and in some places it hit so hard it erased entire towns.
It is in this environment Dr Scott, part of the two Australian medical teams at Banda Aceh, is working to save lives.
"We're working in one room with two operations going on at the same time with no air-conditioning and lots of flies," he said. "That's pretty hard yakka and it gets worse every day.
"All the patients we've treated, if we ask them their story it's the same thing: 'My family's dead'. These are people with eight or nine or 10 people in their family and they are the only survivor. It's just incomprehensible to us."
Dr Scott, a RAAF reservist, is used to working in conflict situations, but said Banda Aceh was still telling on the team.
Team members relied on each other for counselling, talking through experiences only people who worked on the aid effort could understand.
He paid tribute to his colleagues back in Lismore who, with only a few hours' notice, had to fill the gap in services when he and fellow local anaesthetist Brian Pezzutti were called to help.
Dr Scott said the team would have saved hundreds of lives by the time it left tomorrow.
That effort softens only a fraction of the suffering in Aceh, but Dr Scott said he had no doubt of the value of their work.
"We're not supermen and we don't think we are," he said. "If we can save 50 or 200 or 500 people, that's 500 people here to rebuild. That's better than 500 people who won't be.
"Each individual life is important."