JAKARTA: Rescue workers were searching for hundreds of missing people in tsunami-ravaged villages on Indonesia’s Mentawai islands Wednesday as the death toll rose to more than 150, officials said.
The Disaster Management Agency in the provincial capital of Padang put the death toll at 154, with most of the deaths in the Pagai Utara and Pagai Selatan districts, where 10 villages were swept away by waves as high as 3 metres caused by a magnitude 7.2 quake Monday.
Up to 400 people were reported missing in Mentawai by Wednesday afternoon. More than 500 families were homeless and staying at temporary shelters, said Mr Antorizon, an agency official who, like many Indonesians, uses only one name. Food and other aid had been distributed to survivors, Mr Antorizon said, adding that additional rescue workers, volunteers and aid were being sent to Mentawai, which takes up to 10 hours to reach by ferry.
The West Sumatra Governor, Mr Irwan Supriyanto said bad weather hampered aid shipments to the islands. “We need big vessels,” the state-run Antara news agency quoted Supriyanto as saying. “Big waves as high as 5 metres hampered small vessels from moving closer to the beach.”
The health ministry said waves from the tsunami reached as far as 600 metre inland minutes after the quake, sweeping away or heavily damaging hundreds of homes, places of worship and bridges.
On Pagai Utara island, up to 80 per cent of homes in Betumonga village were destroyed, leaving many missing and feared dead, said Mr Mujiharto, head of the health ministry’s crisis centre.
Aftershocks measuring up to 5.5 on the Richter scale were recorded through Wednesday, the Meteorology, Geophysics and Climatology Agency said. The tsunami and the eruption of the Merapi volcano on Java prompted the President, Mr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to cut short a visit to Vietnam, a cabinet minister said.
The State Secretary, Mr Sudi Silalahi said Mr Yudhoyono was scheduled to fly directly to Mentawai from Hanoi to inspect the conditions there. The Mentawai chain consists of 70 islands and islets with a population of about 68,000 people. It is located 150 km off the western coast of Sumatra.
Experts have for the past two years warned of a massive undersea earthquake and a tsunami similar to the one that devastated Indian Ocean nations in December 2004. That tsunami killed more than 230,000 people, including about 170,000 in Indonesia’s Aceh province on Sumatra.
The 2004 quake was followed by a magnitude-7.6 tremor that hit Padang and neighbouring districts on Java in September 2009, killing more than 1,100 people.
Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, where continental plates meet, causing frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In Indonesia’s crowded Central Java province, rescue workers resumed their search Wednesday for the dead and missing from ash-covered villages after Mount Merapi erupted Tuesday night, killing at least 28 people and injuring dozens of others.