South Pagai, Indonesia (AFP) Oct 30, 2010
Scores of people feared dead in Indonesia's tsunami disaster zone were found alive Saturday as rescue workers began to reach remote island communities five days after the killer wave.
The discovery came as Indonesia struggled with disaster on two fronts following another powerful eruption of the archipelago's most active volcano, which sparked chaos and spewed ash over a vast area of central Java.
On the tsunami-hit Mentawai island chain off the coast of Sumatra, rescue workers battling rough seas and monsoon rain found 135 people hiding on high ground, too scared of another wave to return to their shattered villages.
"We're so grateful that we've found many of the missing people -- we'd been working very hard to find them," disaster management official Joskamatir said.
Officials had held out little hope of finding many of the missing after flights over the area earlier in the week revealed dozens of unclaimed bodies strewn across beaches and wedged in rubble.
Many of the dead were also believed to have been sucked out to sea as the killer wave receded.
The number of missing was almost halved from 298 to 163 following Saturday's discovery, while the death count stood at 414, according to an official tally.
Rescue workers were reaching some of the isolated coastal villages crushed by the three-metre (10-foot) wall of water which was triggered on Monday by a 7.7-magnitude earthquake, but monsoon weather was slowing the relief effort.
"Before help came I survived by eating whatever we could find, such as taro," said Theopilus, 42, a farmer on the worst-hit island of South Pagai.
"We're in dire need of more food, tents and blankets. I feel really cold at night as it rains all the time."
There was more good news as several tsunami-relief volunteers were found safe after their boat sank off South 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.
In central Java, 1,300 kilometres (810 miles) to the southeast, terrified residents fled in panic when Mount Merapi again erupted just after midnight, threatening a repeat of explosions on Tuesday that claimed at least 36 lives.
No one was killed in the latest eruption, but hospital staff reported that two people died in the chaotic rush to escape, incluidng a woman who was hit by a truck.
"I was sleeping on the veranda when loud booms like thunder woke me up," local resident Kris Budianto, 51, told AFP. He suffered a broken arm and facial wounds when he crashed his motorbike in the melee.
Volcanic ash rained down on the Central Java provincial capital of Yogyakarta 26 kilometres away from the crater, shutting the airport for over an hour.
Government volcanologist Subandrio said more eruptions were likely and warned about 50,000 people who have been evacuated from the danger zone not to tempt fate by going home too soon.
"We will even have to evaluate whether we need to widen the exclusion zone because we should not downplay the threat -- Mount Merapi is extremely dangerous," he said.
Many displaced people returned to the slopes of 2,914-metre Merapi, a sacred landmark in Javanese tradition whose name means "Mountain of Fire", to tend to their livestock during the day.
On North Pagai, dazed and hungry survivors of Monday night's tsunami were still roaming between devastated villages looking for food and lost loved ones.
A baby was born in a crowded medical clinic as a man died of his wounds just a few beds away.
Another ship carrying badly need relief supplies such as tents, medicine and food arrived at Sikakap on the protected side of North Pagai island, while helicopters dropped aid packages to cut-off villages.
Joskamatir said only five percent of the aid piling up at Sikakap had been delivered to those in need, citing bad weather and the "limited availability of transportation" such as boats and helicopters.
"There are three helicopters here already but we still need more speedboats. We need about 50 speedboats," he said.
Australia and the United States have pledged aid worth a total of three million dollars while the European Commission released 1.5 million euros (two million dollars) for victims of both disasters.
Indonesia straddles a region known as the "Pacific Ring of Fire", with scores of active volcanoes and major tectonic fault lines. Almost 170,000 Indonesians were killed in the 2004 Asian tsunami.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited tsunami survivors on Thursday and said the "only long-term solution" was for people to move away from the most vulnerable coastal areas.
Mentawai fisherman Hari, 24, agreed.
"I plan to leave my village. I don't want to live here anymore. I'm traumatised," he said.
earlier related report
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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