Tsunami Aid Response of Concern

In Asia, Earthquakes & Tsunamis, News Headlines

The death toll from the Indonesian tsunami that hit the islands off the coast of Sumatra has risen to 343 and aid is only just beginning to trickle in.

Another 338 people remain missing after the wave that was generated by a magnitude 7.7 undersea earthquake on Monday.

Some emergency teams have reached the affected villages but bad weather is hampering the rescue effort.

Authorities are also dealing with the volcanic eruption in Java that has killed more than 20 people.

The head of the Mentawai Islands regency, Edison Salaleubaja, says the results of the tsunami are devastating.

“Some villages were literally wiped out while in other villages many houses were buried by mud,” he said.

“Some other villages are empty as the people fled to the hills. They were all traumatised and in need of help, especially medical aid for the injured.

“We’re yet to reach all the villagers with food and medical supplies because of the bad weather. Hopefully by tomorrow we can reach them all.”

Dr Dave Jenkins from SurfAid, a rescue organisation set up by surfers, says it is a major disaster.

“There’s a wipe-out kind of scenario for a lot of the villages,” he said.

“In our own village, where one of our staff was, there’s been some survival of houses and infrastructure and clearly they didn’t have as many killed, I assume because they were prepared from our project.

“They had 10 die. It’s quite a big village, quite a few hundred, so it sounds like a lot of them escaped.”

Dr Jenkins says he is concerned because donors have not been as forthcoming as in the past.

“Something’s happened – put it that way. I mean we have been all over the news from CNN, BBC, ABC Television, Channel Nine,” he said.

“And in previous disasters we would have expected a very big response. But we haven’t had it.”

The scale of the devastation has raised questions over Indonesia’s early warning systems set up after the 2004 tsunami.

Local resident Ferdinand Salamanang says he did not have any warning.

“There wasn’t any siren to warn people in Sukaka,” he said.

“Yes, there was an earthquake and tsunami detection system in our port, but they’re broken.

“We did not hear any warning this time.”

Dr Jenkins says education is a better option than an early warning system.

“These are little villages dispersed along hundreds of miles of coastline. We’ve shown that you can successfully prepared communities,” he said.

“You educate them. You get them to coordinate themselves and plan themselves better.

“You get them to do an evacuation route. They get up and running as soon as the earthquake is finished. And they go to places.

“They know what to do. They know how to protect themselves, feed themselves, clean themselves and prevent disease outbreak.”

Grim task

Meanwhile, authorities are also dealing with the eruption of Mount Merapi on Indonesia’s most populous island Java.

Thousands of people living near the volcano have been evacuated and more than 20 died after the volcano started spewing hot gas, ash and lava.

Relief workers, including Talfiq Wahudi from the Disaster Mitigation Agency, now face the grim task of retrieving the dead.

“The focus of today is to recover the bodies of victims and keep people from going into the danger area,” he said.

Dr Brian Baptie, a seismologist with the British Geological Society, says it is unlikely the two events are geologically linked.

“Indonesia is one of the most seismically active and also one of the most volcanically active countries on the planet,” he said.

“There are over a hundred active volcanoes. And there’s been a whole sequence of large earthquakes down the coast of Sumatra in recent years, starting with a 9.1 earthquake in 2004.

“So there is a good chance that two of these things will happen at around about the same time.”

A Tasmanian woman living in Yogyakarta says her family fears the Merapi volcano will erupt again.

Amanda Sully, originally from Hobart, lives 25 kilometres from the volcano and is worried another eruption is imminent.

“There’s still real danger, the authorities are warning there could be a much bigger eruption still on the way,” she said.

“It’s really important that people stay well away from the volcano and that the exclusion zone is maintained.”

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