North Pagai, Indonesia (AFP) Oct 28, 2010
The death toll from a tsunami which pummelled remote Indonesian islands soared to 311 on Thursday as questions mounted over whether an elaborate warning system had failed.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was heading to the disaster zone, where fears were growing for hundreds still missing after a huge wave triggered by a powerful earthquake Monday hit the Mentawais off the west coast of Sumatra.
Hundreds of kilometres (miles) away, a mass funeral is being held for those killed when the nation's most active volcano erupted, the second natural disaster to strike Indonesia in as many days.
Disaster response officials said bodies were being found on beaches and coastal areas in the Mentawai island chain, which took the full force of the tsunami as it washed away entire villages.
"Three hundred and eleven people were killed and 379 are still missing," West Sumatra disaster management official Agus Prayitno said.
A ship bearing aid including food, water, medical supplies as well as body bags arrived Thursday at Sikakap, on North Pagai island, one of the two worst-hit islands in the Mentawai group.
An AFP photographer on board said hundreds of villagers were being treated at a medical clinic, many requiring stitches to open cuts suffered as they were tossed around in the surging sea.
Survivors said they had almost no warning that the three-metre (10-foot) wall of water was bearing down on them, despite the laying of a sophisticated network of alarm buoys off the Sumatran coast.
As the magnitude of the disaster became clear, many were asking whether the expensive warning system -- established after the 2004 Asian tsunami which killed at least 168,000 people in Indonesia alone -- had failed.
An official tsunami warning was issued after the 7.7-magnitude quake but it either came too late or did not reach the communities in most danger.
One survivor, 32-year-old farmer Borinte, said the wave slammed into his community on North Pagai island only 10 minutes after residents had felt the quake.
"About 10 minutes after the quake we heard a loud, thunderous sound. We went outside and saw the wave coming. We tried to run away to higher ground but the wave was much quicker than us," he told AFP on Wednesday.
He said he managed to stay alive by clasping to a piece of wood. His wife and three children were killed.
Medical personnel were arriving on helicopters but boats bearing aid have been hampered by bad weather around the islands, which are about half a day's ferry ride away from the port of Padang on Sumatra.
Troops and naval personnel had been dispatched to the area. Indonesian western fleet commander Marsetio said at least five warships were on their way.
The United States and several of Indonesia's neighbours have pledged help for a nation which often finds itself battling calamity, although Jakarta said it did not see a need for foreign assistance.
On the central island of Java, rescuers have pulled the bodies of at least 32 people from a tomb of fine grey ash after Mount Merapi erupted on Tuesday, including the elderly spiritual gatekeeper of the "Mountain of Fire".
Officials said more than 50,000 people had fled to cramped temporary shelters around the nearby city of Yogyakarta, but there were fears for the fate of thousands more who had refused to budge.
The slopes of the mountain were an eerie wasteland on Thursday, with houses burnt and flattened, trees scorched and stripped of leaves and the stench of rotting bodies filling the air, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.
Soaring above the rice paddies of central Java, the 2,914-metre (9,616-foot) Mount Merapi is the most active of the 69 volcanoes with histories of eruptions in Indonesia. It last erupted in June 2006, killing two people.
Indonesia straddles a region where the meeting of continental plates causes high seismic activity. It has the world's largest number of active volcanoes and is shaken by thousands of earthquakes every year.
A 7.6-magnitude earthquake last year in Padang killed about 1,100 people, while the 2004 Asian tsunami -- triggered by a 9.3-magnitude quake along the same faultline -- killed at least 168,000 people in Indonesia alone.
earlier related report
Another 25 people have been killed after the eruption of the country's most active volcano, as the force of nature was unleashed in an area known as the Pacific "Ring of Fire".
The 7.7-magnitude quake struck late Monday in the Mentawai Islands off Sumatra generating waves as high as three metres (10 feet) that one official said had swept away 10 villages in one of the world's top surfing spots.
"At least 112 people were killed and 502 people have gone missing," West Sumatra disaster management head Harmensyah said Wednesday.
Less than 24 hours after the tsunami struck, Mount Merapi erupted on the island of Java, causing thousands to flee in panic as it spewed searing clouds of ash and claiming the lives of at least 25 people, including a baby.
"We heard three explosions around 6 pm (1100 GMT) spewing volcanic material as high as 1.5 kilometres (one mile) and sending heat clouds down the slopes," government volcanologist Surono told AFP.
Indonesia sits on a "ring of fire", where the meeting of continental plates causes high volcanic and seismic activity. The archipelago is frequently struck by powerful earthquakes and has the world's largest number of active volcanoes.
A 7.6-magnitude earthquake in September last year in Padang killed about 1,100 people while the 2004 Asian tsunami -- triggered by a 9.3-magnitude quake off Sumatra -- killed at least 168,000 people in Indonesia alone.
Health Ministry Crisis Centre head Mudjiharto said the Mentawai waves reached up to three metres high and waters swept as far as 600 metres inland on South Pagai island, the hardest hit.
Disaster Management Agency spokesman Agolo Suparto said 10 villages had been swept away.
Medical personnel were on their way to the worst-hit areas in helicopters but rescue efforts had been hampered by disruption to communications in the remote islands, which are about half a day's ferry ride away from Padang.
Disaster Management Agency aid coordinator Wisnu Wijaya told AFP that rescue teams from the capital Jakarta would join forces with local teams to evacuate bodies and deliver food aid, medicines, tents and blankets.
A group of Australian tourists reported that their boat with 15 people aboard was destroyed by a "wall of white water" crashing into a bay after the undersea quake and said some had to cling to trees to survive.
Rick Hallet, an Australian who operates a boat-chartering business in Sumatra, said a huge wave picked up another boat in the bay which smashed into his vessel, triggering an explosion and fireball.
"The bay we were in was several hundred metres across and the wall of white water was from one side to the other, it was quite scary," he told Fairfax Radio Network.
Another group of nine Australian surfers was alive and well after going missing following the quake and tsunami, officials said Wednesday.
Australia's foreign department said the nine on board the Southern Cross tour boat had lost mobile signal but contacted relatives late Tuesday, adding that they were not even aware of the tsunami pummelling the western islands.
US President Barack Obama, who lived in Indonesia as a boy and is due to return there on an Asian tour next month, pledged US help.
"(First Lady) Michelle and I are deeply saddened by the loss of life, injuries, and damage that have occurred as a result of the recent earthquake and tsunami in West Sumatra," he said.
"As a friend of Indonesia, the United States stands ready to help in any way."
Hundreds of kilometres away from the tsunami disaster zone, thousands of people fled in panic after the eruption of Mount Merapi, some covered in white ash, as officials with loudhailers tried to help them escape the area.
Search and rescue official Taufiq from Yogyakarta city told reporters that 12 bodies had been found in and around the house of the spiritual "gatekeeper" of the mountain.
"There are likely to be more victims as the terrain is difficult, roads are damaged and trees uprooted, it's dark and the condition of the volcano is still unstable," he said late Tuesday.
A local hospital doctor also said a baby had died from inhaling volcanic material.
The toll was updated to 25 on Wednesday morning.
Authorities had put an area 10 kilometres around the crater of Mount Merapi on red alert Monday, ordering 19,000 people to flee.
Volcanologist Surono said the latest activity at the 2,914-metre (9,616-foot) Merapi, was bigger than an eruption in 2006, which killed two people.
Its deadliest eruption occurred in 1930 when more than 1,300 people were killed. Heat clouds from another eruption in 1994 killed more than 60 people.
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Jakarta (AFP) Oct 27, 2010
At least 108 people were killed, and hundreds remained missing Wednesday, after a tsunami smashed into a remote Indonesian island chain while in central Java a volcanic eruption left 13 people dead. The 7.7-magnitude quake struck in the Mentawai Islands area west of Sumatra late Monday, generating waves as high as three metres (10 feet) that swept away 10 villages. Hendri Dori Satoko, a ... read more
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