Hunt for survivors after Indonesian earthquake and volcano
Planes with rescue workers and supplies landed for the first time Wednesday.
Wed, Oct 27 2010 at 8:04 AM
NOT STANDING: A damaged building in a village flattened by Monday's earthquake on Pagai island, Indonesia. (Photo: Achmad Ibrahim/AP)
Indonesian rescuers searched for survivors Wednesday after a tsunami smashed into an island chain and a volcano erupted in twin disasters that have left scores dead and thousands homeless.
Ten villages were flattened when the tsunami triggered by a 7.7-magnitude earthquake pounded the Mentawai islands late Monday off the west coast of Sumatra, on a major fault line in a region known as the "Pacific Ring of Fire."
At least 154 people were killed and some 400 remain missing, officials said, as terrifying stories of the power of the wave emerged from the remote area.
"They have lost their houses and now need a lot of aid and assistance. There are some tents already arrived here but we still need many more," West Sumatra provincial disaster management head Harmensyah said.
"We need to find the missing people as soon as possible. Some of them might have run away to the mountains, but many would have been swept away."
Survivors of the tsunami said they had no warning that the three-meter (10-foot) wall of water was bearing down on the Mentawais, a popular destination for foreign surfers.
Borinte, 32, a farmer from Detumonga village on the coast of North Pagai island, said he managed to stay alive by clasping to a piece of wood. His wife and three children were killed.
"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.
The first images from the scene of the disaster, broadcast late Wednesday on Indonesian television, showed shell-shocked villagers picking through the sodden ruins of their homes.
Several hundred kilometers away on the central island of Java, another 29 people were killed when the country's most active volcano, Mount Merapi, erupted on Tuesday, spewing searing clouds of gas and lava into the sky.
Officials said almost 42,000 people had fled to temporary shelters around the nearby city of Yogyakarta, but there were fears for the fate of thousands more who had refused to budge.
The United States and several of Indonesia's neighbours pledged help for a nation which often finds itself battling calamity, although the foreign minister said he did not yet see a need for foreign rescue assistance.
Several Australian tourists were caught in the tsunami, getting more than they bargained for on a surfing holiday.
One group survived after their boat was picked up by the wave and slammed into another, creating an explosion. Another group of nine surfers was found alive after being reported missing.
The tsunami surged as far as 600 metres inland on South Pagai island, officials said. On North Pagai, a resort and almost 200 houses were flattened.
Medical personnel flew in on helicopters but rescue efforts have been hampered by bad weather and poor communications to the islands, which are about half a day's ferry ride away from the port of Padang on Sumatra.
Troops and naval personnel were also assisting in the search and rescue effort. Indonesian western fleet commander Marsetio said at least five warships had been sent to the Mentawais, according to Antara state news agency.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono cut short a visit to Vietnam for a summit of Southeast Asian leaders and was on his way to the Mentawais, which he should reach on Thursday, officials said.
US President Barack Obama, who lived in Indonesia as a boy and is due to return there on an Asian tour next month, voiced his sadness over the deaths and pledged US help.
"As a friend of Indonesia, the United States stands ready to help in any way," he said.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that he was not aware of the disaster having any effect on Obama's planned trip to Indonesia.
Australia, the Philippines and South Korea were among those also offering assistance, but Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said he did not foresee a need for international help.
The massive Indonesian archipelago straddles a region where the meeting of several 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.
Copyright 2010 AFP Global Edition