Jakarta. An earthquake-triggered tsunami that hit the isolated Mentawai Islands has left at least 113 people dead and 150 missing, a health ministry official said.
The head of the Health Ministry’s crisis center, Mudjiharto, said on Tuesday that 58 bodies had been found in North Pagai Island, 20 in South Pagai, 18 in Sipora and seven in Sikakap. He did not say where the 10 other bodies were found.
Irwan Prayitno, the governor of West Sumatra, which includes the Mentawai Islands, was reported as saying 502 people were missing and 2,000 displaced.
But local officials said many of the missing might have sought the safety of higher ground and not returned home yet.
A 7.5-magnitude quake was centered 78 kilometers west of South Pagai, one of the four main islands in the Mentawai Islands, late on Monday.
The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, or BMKG, issued a tsunami warning soon afterwards but lifted it an hour later.
News of the tsunami and its deadly toll only began to be revealed early on Tuesday.
“We do not have proper facilities to detect the occurrence of a tsunami in the Mentawai Islands,” BMKG head Fauzi said.
He said the nearest tsunami buoy was in Teluk Bayur, near the West Sumatra capital of Padang, 12 hours away by boat from the Mentawai Islands.
“We were not able to detect whether there had been a tsunami during the time between issuing the warning and lifting it,” Fauzi said. He now believed the tsunami might have hit the Sipora and Pagai islands 10 to 20 minutes after the warning was issued.
Fauzi said they had lifted the tsunami warning because even if one had occurred it was too late to do anything about it.
Despite its isolation, Mentawai has become a favorite with laid-back surfers. Reports via Facebook from a surfer at the Macaronis surfing resort in North Pagai suggested that all the villas had been “wiped out” by the tsunami, Reuters reported.
Fears were held for nine Australians and a Japanese man on a chartered boat in the area after they were out of contact for several hours. But the men finally made contact with their Padang-based company on Tuesday night and were now on South Pagai.
Mudjiharto said a team of 12 health practitioners from the West Sumatra Health office had left Padang for the Mentawai Islands by boat at 5 p.m., carrying medicine and 200 body bags.
Two personnel of the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) are expected to arrive in Mentawai today, its director, Wisnu Wijaya, said.
They would bring 16 tons of relief aid and Rp 1 billion in funds.
Tito Setiawan, a spokesman for the Coordinating Ministry of People’s Welfare, said South Pagai appeared to be the worst hit, with about 80 percent of coastal homes there flattened by waves that reached up to three meters high.
Tito said Coordinating Minister Agung Laksono and Vice President Boediono are scheduled to visit Mentawai today to assess the damage.