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Indonesia battles to aid tsunami survivors as toll tops 400

Five tsunami aid workers rescued in Indonesia
Jakarta (AFP) Oct 30, 2010 - Five tsunami relief workers who went missing in Indonesia after a rented wooden boat sank near the Mentawai islands have been found and helped to safety, an official said Saturday. "The volunteers who were missing after their boat sank have been rescued," disaster management official Antorizon said. The group of volunteers embarked from the Sikakap area in North Pagai island. "They were about to help victims with the electricity in a hard-hit area. They were determined to go despite the bad weather," disaster management official Surya said. More than 400 people were killed and 13,000 left without homes after a tsunami hit the Mentawai islands on Monday night.
by Staff Writers
North Pagai, Indonesia (AFP) Oct 29, 2010
Indonesia battled Friday to deliver aid to remote islands where a tsunami has killed over 400 people, as bodies lay strewn on beaches and buried in debris days after the wave hit.

Disaster response officials believe the final death toll from the huge wave that pummelled the Mentawai island chain off the west coast of Sumatra Monday could exceed 600, with many victims sucked out to sea as the tsunami receded.

Almost 13,000 people are living in makeshift camps on the islands after their homes were wiped out in the killer wave, which was triggered by a powerful 7.7 magnitude earthquake.

Survivors in a village reached by an AFP photographer said as many as 30 of the community's 100 children had been killed. One man complained they still had not received any assistance from the government.

Elsewhere in the disaster-prone archipelago, the nation's most active volcano, Mount Merapi in central Java, was spewing lava and searing gas, after an eruption on Tuesday killed 34 people.

Volcanologist Heru Suparwoko said the clouds were "definitely dangerous" for people who had refused to obey orders to evacuate the danger zone.

Some 50,000 people have fled to temporary shelters but many are returning to their fields on the volcano during the day, despite the threat of another deadly eruption.

On the Mentawais, a legendary destination for foreign surfers but an otherwise poor and neglected part of Indonesia, officials said helicopters had started dropping aid on Friday.

"We've started sending relief supplies, which are still limited but enough for the people to survive," national search and rescue spokesman Gagah Prakoso said.

The latest official death toll from the tsunami stood at 408, with 303 still listed as missing. Officials said as many as 200 of the missing were not expected to be found alive.

Bad weather has hampered efforts to ferry aid such as tents, medicine, food and water to the islands by boat from the nearest port of Padang, which is more than half a day away even in the best conditions.

Some aid workers said they had been stuck in Padang for days, waiting for a ride to the Mentawais.

Shortages of aviation fuel as well as a lack of roads and phone communications on the affected islands were also limiting aid distribution, officials said.

Dave Jenkins of independent health agency SurfAid International, which is based in the Mentawais, said: "Bad weather is forecast and a severely challenging situation has been made a lot worse."

"We need to keep people alive, warm and fed, and fight disease outbreaks. After that we can move into the reconstruction phase," he said.

"It's challenging and people need to coordinate much better."

Australia announced assistance of about one million US dollars while the European Commission released 1.5 million euros (two million dollars) in aid.

"Indonesia is currently addressing a multitude of emergencies, whose cumulative impact is putting local capacity under severe strain," European aid chief Kristalina Georgieva said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the United Nations stood ready to assist. The United States and several Asian countries have also offered help.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited the area Thursday and told survivors the government was doing everything it could.

But he also advised people to move from coastal areas prone to tsunamis, saying this was the "only long-term solution".

Officials have batted away questions about why an expensive warning system -- established after the 2004 Asian tsunami killed almost 170,000 people on Sumatra and nearby islands -- failed to alert people on the Mentawais.

Survivors said the only warning they received was the "roar" of the wave as it sped towards them shortly before 10 pm, even though an official tsunami alert had been issued in Jakarta.

An official responsible for the warnings blamed local authorities on the Mentawais for failing to pass on the alert, telling reporters: "We don't feel there was any mistake."

The Indonesian archipelago is part of the so-called "ring of fire", studded with scores of active volcanoes and stretching from the Pacific to the Indian oceans, spanning several tectonic plates.

According to the US Geological Survey, Monday's earthquake was "the latest in a sequence of large ruptures along the Sunda megathrust" including the 2004 quake.

earlier related report
'No one has come to help us' says Indonesia tsunami survivor
Munte, Indonesia (AFP) Oct 29, 2010 - Desperate tsunami survivors were picking through the mangled ruins of their homes on a remote Indonesian island Friday as corpses rotted in the rubble and mothers mourned for their missing children.

Residents of Munte village, destroyed when the killer wave smashed through the Mentawai islands on Monday, complained that the government has failed to bring them any aid days after the disaster.

"The relief from the government is very late. We still haven't received anything from the government," one villager told an AFP photographer who reached the area on North Pagai island by boat.

A handful of American and Australian aid workers with Half Mile Operations -- an independent humanitarian outfit that specialises in reaching remote locations -- were dispensing food and medical aid to the devastated village.

But survivors said no relief had arrived from the government, amid reports of shortages of helicopters and boats to ferry supplies such as food and tents from the nearest port of Padang -- half a day away on Sumatra island.

Of about 100 children in the village, they said only 30 had survived. Measuring their number in families, they said 100 of the village's 200 families had been killed.

Munte is one of at least 10 seaside hamlets aid workers say were completely wiped out or severely damaged when the tsunami triggered by a 7.7-magnitude earthquake hit the remote island chain on Monday night.

Villagers said the wall of water was up to 10 metres (30 feet) high and roared into their little community without warning, smashing everything up to 300 metres (yards) inland.

Officials say more than 400 bodies have been found across the Mentawais, but fear the final death toll could exceed 600 as many of the dead were carried out to sea with the receding wave.

The people of Munte said they had gathered all the bodies they could and buried them quickly, but others were seen wedged under fallen trees and trapped in crumpled homes.

Dave Jenkins of SurfAid International, a Mentawai-based independent aid group which is working with the government to provide tsunami relief, said high seas and winds were hampering the relief effort.

"Bad weather is forecast and a severely challenging situation has been made a lot worse," he said, adding better coordination was needed to get the aid supplies from the port in Padang to the worst-hit villages.

"We need to keep people alive, warm and fed, and fight disease outbreaks. After that we can move into the reconstruction phase," he said.

"It's challenging and people need to coordinate much better."

A navy ship brought supplies to the North Pagai town of Sikakap, on the unaffected northern side of the island.

But from there it needed to be dispersed by smaller boats or helicopters because many of the worst-hit communities were not serviced by roads. There was also a shortage of aviation fuel on the Mentawais for the relief choppers.

To further complicate matters, most of the villages have no phones or wireless communications.

Helicopters only began dropping supplies to the most isolated islands on Friday, national search and rescue spokesman Gagah Prakoso.

They had reached "around 20 to 30 percent" of the affected areas which could not be reached by land or sea.

"We've started sending relief supplies, which are still limited but enough for the people to survive," he said.

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Indonesia tsunami death toll likely to pass 500
North Pagai, Indonesia (AFP) Oct 29, 2010
The death toll from a tsunami that pummelled remote Indonesian islands is expected to pass 500, an official said Thursday as questions mounted over whether a warning system had failed. Hopes were fading for hundreds of people still listed as missing after a huge wave triggered by a powerful earthquake hit the remote Mentawai islands Monday off the west coast of Sumatra. Meanwhile, on the ... read more

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