Hunt for survivors after twin disasters hit Indonesia


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-metre (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 kilometres 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.
Spiritual guardian fails to tame volcano
The spiritual guardian of Indonesia’s Mount Merapi, an old man known as Grandfather Marijan, finally lost his battle with the volcano when it buried him in a blanket of choking ash.
The bodies of Marijan and around 28 other people were pulled from the fine grey ash as rescue workers scoured the slopes for victims and survivors of Tuesday’s massive eruptions.
From his house beneath the smoking crater, the royally appointed guardian, aged in his 70s, had for years led traditional rituals to appease the volcano’s ancient spirits.
His body was found on Wednesday covered in ash and reportedly in a position of prayer, suggesting the old gatekeeper had struggled to the end to soothe the violent energies in the mountain’s core.
Local media reported that a journalist had gone to the village to plead with Marijan to flee, after the authorities issued a maximum red alert on Monday suggesting a major eruption could be imminent.