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In the News - Friday, JANUARY 28, 2005

3R man assists in

tsunami-flattened Calang

Hell and high water

By John Elliott

   Chris Gentry, who grew up in Three Rivers but now lives in Bali, Indonesia, has witnessed some incredible things in his life as an Outward Bound counselor and motivational guru. But nothing, according to the 52-year-old founder and CEO of Asia Works, comes even close to the devastation of the Sumatra coast that he experienced first hand after the December 26 tsunami.
   With an office in Jakarta, Indonesia, Chris is well acquainted with the primitive conditions of the Aceh (pronounced AW-chay) province on the island of Sumatra. He also knows how dangerous the political situation remains between the native Acehnese people, rebel forces, and the Indonesian government.
   After the coastal regions of Sumatra and the Aceh province were reported to have been devastated, Gentry realized something had to be done immediately.

  “I contacted some corporations that I knew that might be willing to help,” Chris said, “and Rip Curl agreed to support whatever we wanted to do.”
   Rip Curl, a surfing gear and clothing manufacturer, donated $150,000. Gentry, whose company gave $10,000, organized an expedition to distribute some much needed supplies and just help out in any way possible.

  “As soon as we were able to charter a vessel, we loaded it with powdered milk, water, first aid supplies, tools, and generators,” Gentry said. “When we arrived off the coast near Banda Aceh on January 4, like several other organizations waiting to get in, we encountered some very uncooperative Indonesian government officials.”
   So Gentry’s band of relief workers made contact with the Rainbow Warrior, a Greenpeace vessel out of Australia, and decided to head south along the west coast of Sumatra into even more remote coastline accessible only by boat. Greenpeace, working with Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), was able to get an official permit to off-load at Banda Aceh, the provincial capital. They assured Gentry’s organization, “IDAPE,” that they would relay information and support their efforts as needed.

  “This northwest coast of Sumatra is certainly one of the area’s most severely affected by the tsunami and earthquake, but it has been logistically difficult for aid organizations to reach the victims in most of the region,” said David Curtis, MSF emergency coordinator in Jakarta.
   Translated, MSF means “Doctors without Borders.” In the earliest days of the relief effort, MSF utilized expeditions like Gentry’s to transport medical personnel into some of the most ravaged areas.
   What they saw there was devastation beyond belief.

  “We went ashore in Calang [pronounced chay-LONG] and the former bay was now constricted by tons of debris and rubble,” Chris said. “As far as three miles inland there was a watermark estimated at more than 90 feet above sea level.”
   Gentry’s crew sifted through the rubble of a large section of town uncovering an untold number of corpses. Working with some villagers, they buried dozens of bodies in makeshift burial pits.
   Chris said that in this part of Indonesia, because of the impenetrable rainforest, 90 percent of the population lives on the coast.

  “Some of these villages where thousands lived are now totally gone,” Chris said, “while in others as many as 80 percent of the inhabitants died. There is no way to ever know how many people actually died in this tragedy.”
   Last Monday, Chris was back at the helm of his Asia Works company, preparing his teams for training sessions in Malaysia and Jakarta. He said, via telephone on Tuesday, that although more than $7 billion has been pledged in tsunami aid so far, more would be needed.

  “Those who wish to donate to IDAPE can be assured that 100 percent will reach the victims in Indonesia,” Chris said.
Chris’s mother, Miriam, is a longtime Three Rivers resident. Inquiries on where and how to donate through Gentry’s Indonesian-based relief organization may be addressed to The Kaweah Commonwealth.
   Closer to home, the local Red Cross is funneling donations into its “International Committee” (ICRC) to be used in Sri Lanka, Somalia, and Banda Aceh. Estimates now place the number of death toll at more than 150,000 in Indonesia alone; more than 225,000 total.
   Earlier this week, exactly one month after the tsunami occurred, the ICRC opened a 100-bed field hospital in Banda Aceh. It is being staffed by 30 medical specialists and over 190 support personnel.
   The Norwegian Red Cross donated the hospital, but it will need more donations to keep it operational until at least November. In addition to a ward for the seriously ill and an isolation ward in case of an outbreak of infectious disease, the facility also has an outpatient clinic.

  “Most of the outpatients have been suffering from post-traumatic stress,” said Dr. Carlo David Schebesta of the Norwegian Red Cross. “More than anything else, these patients just need someone to talk to.”
   Because many of the patients have nowhere to go, the Red Cross has set up a temporary camp in a nearby stadium. The camp can accommodate up to 400 discharged patients and their relatives, where follow-up medical services can be provided.

Vandals cause closure of
South Fork Campground

   Sequoia National Park officials closed the South Fork Campground to overnight use on Tuesday, Jan. 25, due to damage caused by vandals. Day-users may still use the area.
   Last weekend, vandals destroyed several of the primitive campground’s facilities, including the pit toilets, signs, and garbage cans. The footbridge at the east end of the campground was damaged in an attempt to set it ablaze.
   It is unknown if damage to the nearby caves was sustained. Cave specialists are currently investigating to determine if the vandals entered those resource areas.

More rain soaks foothills

   On Wednesday, Jan. 26, the swift-moving storminess that began with an awesome display of lightning in the Kaweah canyon dumped another half-inch of rain in the foothills and lots of new snow in the higher elevations of the nearby mountains. Forecasters are predicting a 50-percent chance for more of the same on Saturday, especially in the higher elevations.
   An arctic blast from the Gulf of Alaska blew in behind the leading edge of the low pressure bringing the moist and unstable conditions that clears the atmosphere of particulates and, for a day or two, fog in the valley. It’s difficult to complain about the local weather while Mother Nature has been wreaking so much havoc in other regions of the country.
   When winter weather patterns take aim at Central California, ski resorts in Sun Valley, Idaho, and Big Sky, Mont., begin to wonder whether it will ever snow again or even become cold enough to make snow.
   Lake Tahoe operators are buried in powder but the weather has been so treacherous this year that it can be risky to drive the icy mountain roads.

Memorial District to make

second ballot attempt

   It was a sad day last November 2 as Three Rivers Memorial District board members and supporters monitored the election returns. These local residents were closely watching a local ballot issue, Measure Z, which ultimately was defeated by a narrow margin.
   The Memorial District board of directors have a theory as to why Measure Z — which would have implemented a property tax to assist with the upkeep and maintenance of the aging Three Rivers Memorial Building — failed to receive the necessary two-thirds majority.
   Although 740 voters said yes to providing assistance to the Memorial District through a $26 per-parcel tax, it was the 461 no votes that prevailed. Ultimately, the measure failed by a mere 4.38 percent or about 50 votes.

  “As the date for the election neared, we became aware that some voters had not received the mailed ‘Sample Ballot/Voter Information Pamphlet,’” explained Bill Tidwell, a Memorial District board member. “How common this was, we had no way of knowing, but three out of the five members of our board had not received it.”
   But, since no “Argument Against the Measure” had been filed, the Memorial District board crossed their fingers and hoped Three Rivers voters would realize the need for the assessment.
   Evidently, this was not the case. So, since November, the board has been reviewing what went wrong, as well as determining what the next plan of action should be.

  “It is the opinion of our board that this [mailing] error might well have cost us the few percentage points needed for passage,” continued Bill. “Many Three Rivers voters did not receive the only document that explained the need for our measure and the limitations on the board. They saw only the ballot language asking if we could raise their property tax.”
   Locally, hundreds of people depend on the Three Rivers Memorial Building each month. It is the hub of activities for the Three Rivers Senior League, the Sierra Traditional Jazz Club, and others.
   Although these organizations pay a fee to use the facility, as do others who rent the building for private events, this income has not been enough to pay for the maintenance of the building, which is nearly 50 years old. 

  “Because we think the property tax increase is needed to keep our Memorial Building, we are seriously considering putting the issue before the voters again,” said Bill. “One major factor in this decision is cost as the district must pay for the services rendered by the Tulare County Elections Office and county counsel.”
Besides whether or not the measure should be placed on the ballot again, at issue will be the amount of the per-parcel tax.

  “We will go for a maximum of $23 per parcel this time,” explained Bill. “At the last minute, Governor Schwarzenegger, for some reason, exempted memorial districts from having to give part of their property tax to the state for several years. This gives us $6,000 more next year, which amounts to about $3 per parcel.”

THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
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