Questions raised over efficacy of early warning system following Monday’s tsunami that hit islands off Sumatra.
|Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay reports on tsunami victims’ struggle for survival amid aid delays|
Rescue workers have found 135 people on a remote Indonesian island five days after a devastating tsunami hit the western Mentawai Islands, killing at least 416 people.
Amid rough seas and monsoon rain, the group was found hiding on high ground on Saturday, too scared of another wave to return to their shattered villages.
The number of missing was almost halved from 298 to 163 following Saturday’s discovery, but officials had held out little hope of finding many of the missing after flights over the area earlier in the week revealed dozens of unclaimed bodies strewn across beaches and wedged in rubble.
“We’re so grateful that we’ve found many of the missing people – we’d been working very hard to find them,” Joskamatir, a disaster management official, told the AFP news agency.
Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay, reporting from the worst-hit South Pagai island, said that it has proved extremely difficult to reach outlying areas due to the rough seas.
“It is a scene of complete devastation and people in the area are attempting to sort through the rubble, trying to find the bodies of their friends and families,” he said.
“Before help came I survived by eating whatever we could find, such as taro,” Theopilus, 42, a farmer in South Pagai, said.
“We’re in dire need of more food, tents and blankets. I feel really cold at night as it rains all the time.”
Vulnerable coastal areas
Several tsunami-relief volunteers were also found safe after their boat sank off South Pagai.
|Rescue efforts and aid deliveries are hampered by remoteness of affeceted island chain [AFP]|
“They were about to help victims with the electricity in a hard-hit area. They were determined to go despite the bad weather,” Surya, a disaster management official, said.
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Indonesian president, visited tsunami survivors on Thursday and said that the “only long-term solution” was for people to move away from the most vulnerable coastal areas.
His comments also come amid questions on whether an expensive warning system – established after the massive 2004 Asian tsunami, which killed at least 168,000 people in Indonesia alone – had failed.
Tsunami survivors have said they had almost no warning that the wall of water was bearing down on them, despite a sophisticated network of alarm buoys off the Sumatran coast.
While an official tsunami warning was apparently issued just after the earthquake, it either came too late or did not reach the communities in most danger.
Indonesia straddles a region where the meeting of continental plates causes high seismic activity. It has the world’s largest number of active volcanoes and is shaken by thousands of earthquakes every year.
A 7.6-magnitude earthquake last year in Padang killed about 1,100 people, triggered by a 9.3-magnitude quake along the same fault line that caused the 2004 Asian tsunami.