Over 100 dead and hundreds missing in Indonesia after tsunami destroys island villages

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Mentawai Islands off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia

At least 113 people are now dead and hundreds more are missing after a 10 foot (3 m) tsunami destroyed several villages in a series of remote islands in western Indonesia. The tsunami was caused by a magnitude 7.7 earthquake which struck on Monday at 9:42 p.m. local time (14:42 UTC). The epicenter of the earthquake was 78 kilometers (48 mi) west of South Pagai, one of the Mentawai Islands off the west coast of Sumatra.

“We are predicting that people will need food supplies and shelter. The rain is coming down very hard, the wind is very strong,” a local police officer said, addind that emergency posts had been set up and patrols were being made to try and locate the missing. An official said that they had purchased 200 body bags "just in case."

Cquote1.svg We have people reporting to the security post here that they could not hold on to their children, that they were swept away. A lot of people are crying. Cquote2.svg

—Betu Monga official

A local official said that most of the buildings in the coastal village of Betu Monga had been destroyed when the tsunami struck. “Of the 200 people living in that village, only 40 have been found. 160 are still missing, mostly women and children,” he said. “We have people reporting to the security post here that they could not hold on to their children, that they were swept away. A lot of people are crying.” Food supplies, he added, were running low.

Wisnu Wijaya, the preparedness director with the National Disaster Management Agency, said that the government is getting aid to the islands. "We already sent a rapid response team to this area, coordinated by the provincial government. We have local disaster management at Padang, because right now the condition of the wave is quite high," he said. Wijaya added that high waves and stormy weather have made it difficult to reach the affected areas, and communication was a problem. Emergency shelters have been set up and the first team from Sumatra was arriving Tuesday evening to begin a rapid assessment of the aid that was needed. "Up to now, I think we still can manage this problem. Maybe also we'll send staff to go there and make a better coordination. If they need national resources to deploy there, we'll be ready to support local government," Wijaya said.

Cquote1.svg We threw whatever we could that floated—surfboards, fenders—then we jumped into the water. Cquote2.svg

—Rick Hallet

The head of the regional government in the affected area told local television that some of the people recorded as missing may have moved to higher ground to take refuge from the waves. Rick Hallet, who was aboard his boat when the earthquake struck, told Australian television: "We threw whatever we could that floated—surfboards, fenders—then we jumped into the water. Fortunately, most of us had something to hold on to ... and we just washed in the wetlands, and scrambled up the highest trees that we could possibly find and sat up there for an hour and a half." The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a statement saying that radio contact had been lost with a tourist boat in the area which could have been nine Australians and a Japanese national. A humanitarian organisation said that there were "genuine fears" for those aboard.

A spokesperson for a surfing resort on the coast of North Pagai said that they had “experienced a level of devastation that has rendered the resort inoperable”. Witnesses suggested that villas at the resort had been “wiped out” by the tsunami. One report suggested that a 10 feet (3 m) wave had hit the resort, causing boats to burst into flames. “There was a lot of debris floating in the water, including bar stools and other pieces of furniture from Macaronis Resort,” a member of staff said. Reports suggested that water had reached rooftops in North Pagai.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area prone to seismic shifts that spark earthquakes and volcanic activity. A massive earthquake in 2004 caused a tsunami that killed more than 230,000 people across the Indian Ocean. After that disaster Indonesia worked to establish early warning systems and disaster management programs to help deal with future quakes.


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