Rescuers searching islands ravaged by a tsunami off western Indonesia fear the death toll of more than 300 is likely to climb because hundreds of missing people may have been swept away, an official said Thursday.
Elsewhere in Indonesia, villagers held a mass burial for some of the 33 people killed when one the country’s most volatile volcanos erupted.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was to meet Thursday with survivors of the twin catastrophes, which struck within 24 hours in different corners of the seismically charged region, severely testing his disaster-prone nation’s emergency response network.
Officials say a multimillion dollar warning system installed after the monster 2004 quake and tsunami broke down one month ago because it was not being properly maintained.
In the tsunami-ravaged Mentawai islands, search and rescue teams – kept away for days because of stormy seas and bad weather – found roads and beaches with swollen corpses lying on them, according to Harmensyah, head of the West Sumatra provincial disaster management center.
Some wore face masks as they wrapped corpses in black body bags. Huge swaths of land were underwater and houses lay crumpled with tires and slabs of concrete piled up on the surrounding sand.
Harmensyah said the teams were losing hope of finding the more than 370 people still missing since the wall of water, created by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake, crashed into the islands on Monday.
“They believe many, many of the bodies were swept to sea,” he said.
On Thursday, survivors crowded into a makeshift medical center in the village of Sikakap on Pagai Utara. More than 100 people – some still weeping for loved ones lost to the 10-foot (3-meter) wave – lay on straw mats or sat on the floor, waiting for medics to treat injuries including broken limbs and cuts.
At least 311 people died as the tsunami washed away hundreds of wooden and bamboo homes in 20 villages, displacing more than 20,000 people, said Ade Edward, a government disaster official.
About 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) to the east in central Java, the Mount Merapi volcano was mostly quiet but still a threat after Tuesday’s eruption that sent searing ash clouds into the air, killing at least 33 people and injuring 17, said Agustinus, a doctor at the local health department who, like many Indonesians, goes by one name.
Among the dead was a revered elder who had refused to leave his ceremonial post as caretaker of the mountain’s spirits.