Indonesia tsunami deaths increase after Sumatra quake

Women and children flee to higher ground in Padang, West Sumatra Many residents in Padang, West Sumatra, fled to higher ground after the earthquake

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More than 100 people have been killed and many are missing after a tsunami triggered by an earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.

Scores of houses were destroyed by waves after the 7.7 magnitude quake, which struck 20km (13 miles) under the ocean floor near the Mentawai islands.

Ten villages on the islands were swept away by the tsunami, a disaster official told the AFP news agency.

Damage and rough weather are delaying efforts to reach the affected area.

Hendri Dori Satoko, a lawmaker in the Mentawai islands, told Metro TV: "Our latest data from crisis centre showed that 108 people have been killed and 502 are still missing."

He said some of the missing could have fled to higher ground and were afraid to return to their homes.

Health ministry officials said 113 bodies had been recovered in the area so far, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The search and rescue operation is being seriously hampered by bad weather, officials have told the BBC's Karishma Vaswani in Jakarta.

Heavy rain is preventing helicopters from accessing the area and boats cannot reach the islands either because the dock on the island of South Pagai has been destroyed.

Poor communications have also made it hard for officials to gain accurate information, our correspondent adds.

The disaster comes as thousands of people are being evacuated from the area around the Mt Merapi volcano in central Java, after it began erupting.

But seismologists say there is very little chance that the two events are connected.

Body bags

The quake hit late on Monday off the west coast of Sumatra. There is no tsunami warning system in place around the Mentawai islands, but the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued an alert of a local tsunami.

Map

It later said a "significant tsunami" had been generated. The alert has now been cancelled as no further waves are expected, although the area is still experiencing strong aftershocks.

Eyewitnesses say a huge wave was created by the quake, which seriously damaged villages or even washed them away entirely.

The islands of South Pagai and North Pagai were reported to be particularly badly affected.

Waves reached 3m (10ft) high and the water swept inland as far as 600m on South Pagai island, said Mudjiharto - the head of Indonesia's health ministry crisis centre, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name.

He said 200 body bags were being sent to the region in case they were needed.

Start Quote

I looked out to sea and that's when we saw the wall of white water coming at us”

End Quote Rick Hallet Australian ship's captain

"Ten villages have been swept away by the tsunami," National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Agolo Suparto told AFP.

Most buildings in the South Pagai coastal village of Betu Monga were destroyed, Hardimansyah, an official with the regional branch of the Department of Fisheries, told the Reuters news agency by phone.

"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."

Heri Suprapto, the head of Kepuhargo village in the Mentawai islands, told the BBC's Indonesia service that 372 "very weak" people from three villages had been evacuated.

"Transportation has also been prepared for villagers who are in good health whenever evacuation needs to be done. Preparations are also under way to evacuate individuals by using motorbike and small cars."

Indonesia's vice-president and health minister are preparing to travel to the affected region on Wednesday.

'Wall of white water'
Rescue workers on a ferry in Padang, Sumatra, Indonesia (26 Oct 2010) Rescue workers are preparing to evacuate victims from quake-hit areas

A group of Australians caught up in the tsunami have described how their boat was destroyed by a wall of water.

Captain Rick Hallet told Australian media that his boat was anchored off the shore when the waves came.

"We felt a bit of a shake underneath the boat... then within several minutes, we heard an almighty roar," he said.

"I immediately thought of a tsunami and looked out to sea and that's when we saw the wall of white water coming at us," he said.

The wave brought another boat crashing into them and sparked a fire, forcing them to jump into the sea.

Some of those on board were swept up to 200m inland by the wave, he said.

Meanwhile, the crew of another Australian boat, the Southern Cross - which went missing for nearly 24 hours after the quake - have been found safe and well, Australia media report.

The nine Australians and a Japanese man on board had lost their radio signal but made contact with their tour company late on Tuesday, Australia's AAP news agency reported.

The vast Indonesian archipelago sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, one of the world's most active areas for earthquakes and volcanoes.

More than 1,000 people were killed by an earthquake off Sumatra in September 2009.

In December 2004, a 9.1-magnitude quake off the coast of Aceh triggered a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed a quarter of a million people in 13 countries including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.

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