x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Indonesian tsunami death toll may exceed 500

Mount Merapi begins erupting again, as villagers search for the missing and citizens wonder why expensive warning systems failed.

Indonesia’s Mount Merapi erupted yesterday for the second time in a week, blasting plumes of ash into the sky and inciting fears of a second tsunami. Above, the remnants of a village called Kinarejo on the slope of the smoking volcano.
Indonesia’s Mount Merapi erupted yesterday for the second time in a week, blasting plumes of ash into the sky and inciting fears of a second tsunami. Above, the remnants of a village called Kinarejo on the slope of the smoking volcano.

The death toll from the tsunami that pummelled remote Indonesian islands is expected to pass 500, as officials warned that hundreds of missing people might have been swept out to sea.

Islanders dug graves and hung up tarpaulins to sleep under in one of the worst-hit areas of the Mentawai Islands, where a three-metre wave triggered by an earthquake on Monday had swept houses from their foundations.

As rescuers continued to count the bodies, 1,300km away a volcano that had killed 33 people on the Indonesian island of Central Java this week began erupting again. Mourners held a mass burial yesterday after Mount Merapi had appeared to be calming.

The two initial disasters struck within 24 hours of one another, severely stretching Indonesia's ability to respond to large-scale emergencies.

As the official death toll rose to 343 last night, hope was fading of finding the 338 people registered as missing since the tsunami.

"They believe many, many of the bodies were swept to sea," said Ferry Faisal, of the West Sumatra provincial disaster management agency.

In a rare piece of good news, an 18-month-old baby was found alive in a clump of trees on Pagai Selatan island on Wednesday. Relief officials said a 10-year-old boy found the toddler and that both his parents are dead.

On Pagai Seatandug island, one of the hardest-hit areas with 65 dead, villagers whose homes had been destroyed tried to find shelter from the rain. They said many residents who fled to the hills were refusing to return home for fear of another tsunami.

On nearby Pagai Utara island, more than 100 survivors crowded into a makeshift medical centre in the main town of Sikakap where a ship carrying aid managed to dock yesterday.

Officials say a multimillion-dollar warning system installed after the 2004 quake and tsunami broke down a month ago because it was not properly maintained. A German official at the project disputed that, saying the system was working but the quake's epicentre was too close to the islands for residents to get the warning in time.

* With additional reporting by The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse