Bad weather slows aid to Indonesia tsunami victims

-A A +A
By Associated Press

MENTAWAI ISLANDS, Indonesia (AP) — Choppy seas, poor visibility and a shortage of boats are slowing the delivery of tons of food, water and blankets to the most remote corners of the Indonesian islands hit hardest by a tsunami that killed more than 400 people and crushed entire villages, an official said Friday.

Hundreds of miles (kilometers) away, a volcano on the island of Java that killed 35 people this week erupted five more times Friday, sending searing clouds of ash cascading down its slopes, but no more casualties were reported. Officials said two more people died of burns from Tuesday's eruption.

Four days after the tsunami crashed into the Mentawai islands off Sumatra, details of survivors' misery and new accounts of the terrifying moments when the wave struck were still trickling out from the area, which was cut off by rough seas for nearly two days after the 7.7-magnitude earthquake that churned up the killer wave.

A group of surfers told of huddling, screaming and praying as they watched a roaring wall of water cross a lagoon and slam into their three-story thatch-roofed resort. The power of the wave shook the building so hard they feared it would collapse. All 27 people at the resort survived — five of them by clinging to trees.

"It was noise and chaos. You can hear the water coming, coming, coming," Chilean surfer and videographer Sebastian Carvallo said Friday. "And then before the second wave hit the building, everyone was, like, screaming and when the wave hit the building you could only hear people praying."

Carvallo said at least two of the waves were at least 16 feet (five meters) high. Officials have said there was only one wave 10 feet (three meters) high, but several witnesses have described one or several taller than that.

Dozens of injured survivors of the tsunami languished at a badly strapped hospital Friday, including a newly orphaned 2-month-old boy found in a storm drain. The injured lay on mats or the bare floor as rainwater dripped onto them from holes in the ceiling and intravenous tubes hung from plastic ropes strung from the rafters. The baby, its lungs filled with fluid and with cuts on its face, blinked sleepily in a humidified crib.

"We need doctors, specialists," nurse Anputra said at the tiny hospital in Pagai Utara — one of the four main islands in the Mentawai chain slammed by Monday's tsunami.

A relief coordinator acknowledged Friday that aid was being held up. Suryadi, who is coordinating the aid response from West Sumatra, said tons of aid has reached the main towns on the worst-hit islands by helicopter, after rough seas kept boats away for two days.

But rescue workers say they can't deliver that aid to the farther-flung coastal villages that are accessible only by foot or by sea because roads are too old or damaged for large trucks.

"We need more boats," Suryadi said. He could not estimate how many boats are now delivering aid, but most of the islands' craft would have been washed away by the wave and helicopters have no place to land in many of the devastated villages.

Authorities on the Mentawais have gathered up 20 traditional wooden boats that survived the wave and are using them to ferry supplies to cut-off villages, Soetrisno, deputy of emergency mitigation of the national disaster management agency, told Elshinta radio station.

Heavy rains are churning up the sea and cutting visibility for helicopters, making it unsafe to deliver aid either by boat or air

The weather is also disrupting communications, making it hard to contact the islands by mobile phone or even satellite phone, he said.

The toll from the tsunami and the earthquake beneath the Indian Ocean that spawned it rose to 408 on Friday as officials found more bodies, and 303 people were still missing and feared swept out to sea, said Agus Prayitno of the West Sumatra provincial disaster management center.

Along with the 35 people killed when Mount Merapi erupted Tuesday, the number of dead from the two disasters, which struck within 24 hours of each other has now reached 443.

After a lull that allowed mourners to hold a mass burial for victims, the volcano rumbled with three small eruptions Thursday and five early Friday, according to Subandriyo, a senior government volcanologist. There were no reports of new injuries or damage.

The activity appeared to be easing pressure behind a lava dome that has formed in the crater, said Safari Dwiyono, a scientist who has been monitoring Merapi for 15 years.

"If the energy continues to release little by little like this, it reduces the chances of having a bigger, powerful eruption," he said.

Residents from Kinahrejo, Ngrangkah, and Kaliadem — villages that were devastated in Tuesday's blast — crammed into refugee camps. Officials brought cows, buffalo and goats down the mountain so that villagers wouldn't try to go home to check on their livestock.

Thousands attended a mass burial for 26 of the victims six miles (10 kilometers) from the base of the volcano. Family and friends wept and hugged one another as the bodies were lowered into the grave in rows.