Thursday, October 28, 2010

Images reveal Indonesian tsunami destruction

Government helicopters were able to survey the damage on Wednesday
Aerial images from the tsunami-hit Mentawai Islands in Indonesia have revealed the extent of destruction, as officials raised the death toll to 311. Flattened villages are plainly visible on the images, taken from government helicopters circling the islands. Rescuers, who have finally reached the area, say 13 villages were washed away by the 3m (10ft) wave, and 11 more settlements have not yet been reached. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is due to visit the region later. He cut short a trip to Vietnam to oversee the rescue effort. A 7.7-magnitude earthquake triggered the tsunami in western Sumatra two days ago. The first cargo plane loaded with tents, medicine, food and clothes landed on the islands on Wednesday, but rescue teams believe they have yet to reach the worst-affected areas. Local disaster official Ade Edward said 411 people were still missing. Bad weather has delayed the rescue effort, with boats carrying aid struggling to make the trip from Padang on Sumatra in choppy seas. The first images emerging from the islands, taken on mobile phones, showed bodies being collected from empty clearings where homes and buildings once stood. District chief Edison Salelo Baja said corpses were strewn along beaches and roads.

Locals were given no indication of the coming wave because an early-warning system put in place after the devastating 2004 tsunami has stopped working. Fauzi, the head of Indonesia's Meteorology and Geophysic Agency, told the Associated Press that the system began to malfunction last year, and was completely inoperative by last month.  "We do not have the expertise to monitor the buoys to function as intended," he said. However, even a functioning warning system may have been too late for people in the Mentawai Islands. The vast Indonesian archipelago sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, one of the world's most active areas for earthquakes and volcanoes. More than 1,000 people were killed by an earthquake off Sumatra in September 2009. In December 2004, a 9.1-magnitude quake off the coast of Aceh triggered a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed a quarter of a million people in 13 countries including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.


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