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8 Aug, 2007 12:33

Sakhalin battling aftermath of earthquake

Last week's earthquake on Russia's Sakhalin Island caused extensive damage to roads and property and left hundreds of people homeless. Fresh aftershocks have made things worse, creating yet more problems for both residents and relief workers.

No government can prevent an earthquake. It's how it handles the aftermath of the crisis that makes or breaks its reputation.

“We don't know what the situation is. No one is telling us anything. It's just hearsay and Chinese whispers,” one of the earthquake survivors said.

“We have just the clothes we ran out of the house in. We need humanitarian aid. We can't do without it. Thanks to those kind individuals who have helped us,” another one added.

Experts are examining the buildings for damage, and demolishing those beyond repair.

But last night's aftershocks, measuring up to five on the Richter scale have exacerbated the damage, possibly rendering twice as many houses uninhabitable.

The surveyors will now have to re-examine them. Meanwhile, people remain unsure if they can return to their homes.

More than 500 have been taken to tourist camps outside the city.

Alongside the food and shelter, counselling is on offer for those who want it. And not just the adults, but children too.

“When we started working with them, they wouldn't leave their parent's side. It was hard to get them to communicate. But we think that getting them to paint is an effective form of therapy,” a local psychologist commented.

The governor of Sakhalin has tendered his resignation, following Vladimir Putin's criticism of the slowness of the local authorities in dealing with the crisis.

The government has promised to build over 2,000 new apartments for those left homeless, which will cost more than $US 200 MLN.

But for a remote city, whose main employer, the port, shut down years ago, the present is bleak and the future uncertain.