At least 113 dead after quake-triggered tsunami hits Indonesia

McClatchy-Tribune News Service | Boulder Weekly

JAKARTA, Indonesia — At least 113 people were killed after a tsunami triggered by a powerful earthquake slammed into villages on Indonesia’s Mentawai islands, officials and aid workers said Tuesday.

The Disaster Management Agency in West Sumatra
province said 10 villages on the island chain were swept away by waves
as high as three meters caused by Monday’s 7.2-magnitude quake.

Mujiarto, head of the Health Ministry’s Crisis Centre, said the latest information from Mentawai showed “113 people were dead and at least 150 others were missing.”

But the Indonesian Red Cross put the
number of missing at 502. It said in a statement that 2,000 families
were displaced and nine boats were unaccounted for.

The National Disaster Management Agency said most of the deaths occurred in Pagai Utara and Pagai Selatan districts.

Authorities had lifted a tsunami warning one hour
after the quake and initially said there were no reports of casualties
or damage.

“The information came late because communication was difficult,” said West Sumatra disaster management chief Harmensyah, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.

The Health Ministry said dozens of homes were swept away or
destroyed by a tsunami minutes after the quake, where waves reached as
far as 600 meters inland and submerged dozens of houses.

On Pagai Utara island, up to 80 percent of homes in
Betumonga village were destroyed, leaving “many people” missing and
feared dead, he said.

Andi Arief, a presidential aide in charge of disaster
relief, said relief workers were en route to the Mentawais to provide
emergency assistance. A boat trip to the islands takes about 10 hours
from the provincial capital Padang on Sumatra.

The Mentawai chain consists of 70 islands and islets
with a population of about 68,000 people, 150 kilometres off the
western coast of Sumatra.

Experts have for the past two years warned that a
massive undersea earthquake was likely to occur in the future beneath
the Mentawais and could trigger a deadly 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.

A magnitude-7.6 earthquake hit Padang and neighboring districts on Java in September 2009, killing more than 1,100 people.

Monday’s quake was also felt strongly in several areas of western Sumatra, causing panic among residents in Padang.

Indonesia sits on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, where continental plates meet, causing earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Authorities evacuated thousands of villagers from the slopes of Mount Merapi volcano on central Java island Tuesday after scientists upgraded its alert status to the highest level on Monday.

A 6-month-old baby died and at least 13 people were injured when the volcano spewed clouds of hot ash.


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