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Recent Features :
Helping Hands: Providing Hope in Times of Crisis
Index of Features
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It is sometimes easy to downplay or underestimate the devastation caused by natural disasters on the other side of the world and to go about our daily business. But over the past six months, Newmont APAC employees have gone to great lengths to provide hope to people in need.
Indonesia is prone to natural disasters due to its location on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the most seismically active region in the world. But rarely do such events occur simultaneously – until last October. In less than 48 hours, the world's largest group of islands suffered an earthquake, tsunami and volcanic eruption.
The rumbles of a magnitude 7.7 earthquake began the evening of October 25, 2010, rocking the western coast of Sumatra, located more than 1,000 miles north of the PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara (PTNNT) operation in West Sumbawa. The quake was felt in several mainland towns, but no damage or deaths were reported there.
The earthquake's worst effects were felt on the remote Mentawai Islands, where a short time after the tremors, a nearly 10-foot tsunami caused widespread destruction that displaced more than 20,000 people and affected about 4,000 households. More than 112 people were killed and 500 were reported missing. It took rescuers traveling by boats more than 12 hours to reach victims.
Meanwhile, Mount Merapi in central Java, located about 800 miles south of the earthquake's epicenter, had been rumbling and spewing plumes of white steam for weeks. As eruptions worsened, and on the same day as the Sumatra earthquake, more than 350,000 people were forced to evacuate from the area.
The volcano erupted three times that afternoon, spewing volcanic ash and hot gases through surrounding villages. Stronger eruptions claimed their first victim on October 26, 2010. More than 350 people had died by the end of November 2010 and another 8,000 were displaced from their homes.
In the face of this trio of cataclysms, PTNNT mine officials scrambled to provide aid to and support of the victims. Their efforts included leasing a 10-passenger Cessna seaplane to deliver much-needed supplies to the tsunami-stricken island of Mentawai.
In Yogyakarta, PTNNT began distributing $21,000 worth of aid, including handheld radios, rice, clothing, baby food, toiletries, masks and medicines for victims of the Merapi eruption. Additionally, eight members of PTNNT's emergency response team were deployed to provide medical assistance to the victims.
"We helped and provided medication to many people having injuries, diarrhea and asphyxiation," said Atek Zambani, one of PTNNT's employees who provided aid.
Back at the mine, employees' families collected and packed 34 boxes of clothes, which were distributed directly to several alert posts in the villages around Mount Merapi.
"We extend our concerns for the tragedy and share our empathy with the community for the difficulties they face," said PTNNT president director Martiono Hadianto.
To date, PTNNT has contributed roughly $72,000 toward immediate emergency response assistance for Mentawai and Merapi victims, and allocated a total of $500,000 in financial assistance for rebuilding affected communities.
Just a month after the Indonesian disasters, Australia faced its own confrontation with Mother Nature.
In December 2010, heavy, intense and unprecedented rains soaked the state of Queensland, leading to widespread flooding. The damage was so severe that the government soon declared three-quarters of the state a disaster zone. Flooding to a depth of 25 feet forced thousands of people to evacuate, caused more than 20 deaths and resulted in billions of dollars in damage and lost crops.
The world mourned the news of 13-year-old Jordan Rice, who gave his life to save his 10-year-old brother. Jordan, his brother Blake and mother Donna were trapped inside their car, while rapidly rising water enveloped them.
When a rescuer, Warren McErlean, arrived at the scene, the teenager insisted his brother Blake be saved first. Jordan couldn't swim.
"Courage kicked in, and he would rather his little brother live," said Jordan's older brother Kyle, 16, in an interview with The Australian newspaper.
Before McErlean could return, the car flipped over, carrying Jordan and his mother away.
The heavy rains continued into January and the flooding expanded to western and central Victoria, disrupting more than 50 additional communities.
Then, in early February, Cyclone Yasi arrived. Fierce winds and driving rains were brought by the most powerful storm ever to hit Queensland. Winds reaching more than 181 miles per hour ripped roofs off buildings and cut power to hundreds of thousands, causing massive devastation.
"It (Cyclone Yasi) destroyed 90 percent of Australia's banana plantations, damaged sugar cane crops and destroyed a number of small coastal communities," said Sharon Iannello of APAC's communications and public affairs team.
"Up to 180,000 homes were expected to be without power for up to four weeks."
Thomas Beahan, maintenance services supervisor at Newmont Jundee, provided his personal account of the flooding in his hometown of Rockhampton, located a few hundred miles up the coast from Brisbane.
After a foot of rain fell on December 28, Beahan and other residents were told to evacuate their homes if they could as more floods were expected and authorities would soon close roads.
"Because it was suggested the water levels would rise higher than expected, the rush for food supplies exhausted the stocks on the shelves of the supermarkets," he said. "The shelves were emptied of fresh fruit, vegetables, bread and milk. The two large supermarket chains brought in 44 semi trailers of goods before the town became completely isolated a few hours later."
For days and around the clock, the skies were filled with helicopters ferrying food and supplies to farm houses and surrounding towns. The town was cut off to the south for 14 days, and the north road was only open for emergency use.
Beahan was fortunate that his own house stood above the flood waters and was undamaged, so he and his family provided food and aid to those in need.
"Because of my wife Kerry's upbringing on the farm, our pantry and freezer are always full," he said. "During our confinement, we offered our services for sand bagging, and assisted the Salvation Army in food preparation for the evacuation center and other volunteers. We painted a storage facility at our local church to remind children when the waters receded and the cleanup could begin."
The floods over these last few months will not be forgotten. "We have been truly blessed that in all of the disaster we have been able to assist others," Beahan said. "The understanding and support from Newmont Jundee has certainly made this period easier."
In Graceville, a suburb southwest of Brisbane, broadcasts of Glen Middleton wading neck-deep in cold, filthy water aired around the world. Middleton is a friend of Tim Netscher, regional senior vice president, Newmont Asia Pacific and a few other Newmont employees. They became acquainted when Middleton worked for another mining company.
The father of five wanted to see what remained of his home, which his family had moved into months earlier after living and working in his wife's home country of Indonesia.
"I wanted to know where we were going to start from," Middleton recalled in an interview with The Australian. "You just don't know what you're dealing with."
However, he had additional motivation to return. Middleton needed to find medication for his 9-month-old daughter, Chelsea. Just weeks after her birth, she suffered seizures, a coma and bronchiolitis. She was diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy and congenital heart issues.
"I knew we needed Chelsea's medication, first and foremost," he said. "Then the kids' birth records and our passports, especially the Indonesian records. I got my notebook [computer] with most of our photos on it."
But the family lost the children's first paintings, furniture and other sentimental belongings.
When colleagues learned of his situation, a group of men showed up to lend a hand.
"Some of them had already put in hours at other places, but they just ripped into it, stripping out downstairs, washing stuff off, carrying it out," he said. "And then they went and helped some of the neighbors, people they didn't even know."
Like millions of other Aussies, Middleton will continue to take life one day at a time and remind himself of what matters most – his family.
To aid in the disaster relief fund set up by the Queensland Government, Newmont APAC matched employee donations by three times, raising $200,000 in just a few weeks. Employees from Ghana also fundraised to support the flood appeal by staging a cricket match and other festivities to celebrate Australia Day.
The country has seen its fair share of tragedy in recent months as well. It started last September 3, when a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit the second-largest city, Christchurch. Up to two-thirds of 160,000 homes reported some level of damage, but fortunately no one was killed. However, the same city was hit again by a 6.3 magnitude quake February 22, 2010, causing billions of dollars in damage and killing at least 160 people.
Newmont Waihi Gold's mine rescue team offered assistance in the wake of the national emergency following the second quake. Mine employees and residents of surrounding communities are fundraising to donate money for rebuilding activities and victim support.
Following the Pike River Mine blast that killed 29 coal miners on November 19, 2010, Waihi hosted a community memorial service. The mine also closed all essential functions to allow staff and contractors to pay their respects, along with hundreds of other mourners.
At the service, 29 hardhats with glowing cap lamps, 29 candles and 29 kowhai trees were arranged on the stage as part of the tribute.
"The mining industry is a small community in New Zealand," said general manager Glen Grindlay in a news interview. "We all seem to know someone who is involved in this tragedy, and so we are really feeling for the families of the deceased miners and for the people of Greymouth. Whatever they need, we'll get it there. What's ours is theirs."
April 18, 2011