Asia-Pacific

Indonesia tsunami relief slowed by bad weather

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Media captionSurfer Sebastian Carvallo said he and his friends "thought they would die"

Bad weather is again obstructing efforts to get aid to the survivors of Monday's tsunami in Indonesia.

Heavy rain and high tides are making it hard for boats to deliver supplies to the isolated Mentawai islands off the west coast of Sumatra.

More than 400 people are confirmed dead, but many bodies have yet to be recovered from coastal areas and more than 300 people are still missing.

The tsunami was triggered by a 7.7-magnitude undersea earthquake.

Disaster-relief officials plan to start dropping aid by air, but reports say there are not enough helicopters to reach many of the devastated areas.

Struggling with devastation

The government has pledged millions of dollars for the relief effort, but aid agencies said people on the islands still urgently need food and shelter.

Meanwhile, an Indonesian government official has told the BBC the earthquake was so close to land that the early warning system in the area did not have a chance to send out an alert before the giant waves broke.

The epicentre was 80km from the Mentawai islands.

The government is now planning to install new earthquake detection equipment, said Kusuma Habir from the foreign ministry.

Disaster official Ade Edward says the 3m (10ft) surge is likely to have carried many of the missing out to sea, or buried them in the sand.

As the scale of the tsunami disaster became clear on Thursday, Mr Edward painted a bleak picture of the chances of finding more survivors.

"Of those missing people, we think two-thirds of them are probably dead, either swept out to sea or buried in the sand," he told the AFP news agency.

"When we flew over the area yesterday, we saw many bodies. Heads and legs were sticking out of the sand; some of them were in the trees."

He estimated that a further 200 people may have been killed.

Indonesia's state-run news agency Antara reported that 468 houses had been completely destroyed by the wave.

Village chief Tasmin Saogo told the BBC's Indonesian service that the islanders had begun to bury their dead.

"In the village of Sadegugung, there aren't any body bags. In the end, we just lifted them and we buried 95 people today," he said.

"There are still many bodies lying about, underneath coconut trees and in other places."

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Media captionA three-month-old baby was found alive in a ditch

Indonesia is also struggling with the devastation caused by this week's eruption of Mount Merapi in central Java, which killed more than 30 people.

The volcano erupted again on Friday, sending hot ash down its slopes, but no further casualties have been reported.

Meanwhile, the party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been trying to defuse a growing political row over comments made by one of its senior members.

In comments translated on the Jakarta Globe website, House of Representatives Speaker Marzuki Ali suggested relocating people living next to the sea, adding: "Anyone who is afraid of waves shouldn't live near seashore."

Rival politicians criticised his statement as insensitive, and the party has apologised.

Earlier, Mr Yudhoyono cut short a trip to Vietnam to oversee the rescue effort, flying in a helicopter loaded with food and other basic necessities to the remote and otherwise inaccessible islands.

Indonesian officials said local residents had been given no indication of the coming wave, as a high-tech tsunami warning system installed in the wake of 2004's giant Indian Ocean tsunami was not working.

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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