Camelia Pasandaran & Agencies
Padang & Jakarta. As Indonesians grieved and relief groups struggled to find transport to the remote Mentawai islands on Wednesday night, the first photos and personal accounts trickled in from Monday’s tsunami.
Aerial surveys showed the rubble of homes destroyed by waves triggered by a 7.7-magnitude earthquake that hit the west coast of Sumatra at 9:42 p.m. on Monday.
It seems likely that the barrier islands of Mentawai shielded the Sumatran coast by absorbing the brunt of the tsunami.
Almost 300 people are dead and over 400 are still missing, officials said, as terrifying stories emerged from the remote area.
Survivors said on Wednesday they had no warning. Borinte, 32, a farmer from North Pagai, said he stayed alive by clinging to a piece of wood. His wife and three children were killed.
“About 10 minutes after the quake we heard a loud thundering. We went outside and saw the wave coming. We tried to run away to higher ground but the wave was much quicker than us,” he told Agence France-Presse.
The horror was widely felt as Indonesians reeled from twin disasters — Monday’s tsunami and Tuesday’s eruption of Merapi. Jakartans were also still drying out from epic flooding that crippled the city on Monday.
Some said it felt as if nature was casting a pall over recent good news on the economy and political stability.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who cut short a trip to Hanoi for an Asean summit, arrived in Padang on Wednesday. He plans to visit Mentawai today.
Small groups gathered in offices and homes to “pray for Indonesia” in response to an online plea, while others hurried to offer financial assistance to victims.
Some conservatives have rushed to blame the tsunami and Merapi eruption on immorality.
In Mentawai, the three-meter tsunami surged up to 600 meters inland on South Pagai island, officials said. In Muntei Baru, a village in Silabu district in North pagai, 80 percent of the houses were wrecked or badly damaged.
West Sumatra disaster management head Harmensyah said: “When the tsunami struck there were dozens of fishermen out at sea. Their bodies were found the next morning floating on the water or cast ashore on the beach.”
A tourist group on a surfing holiday had a lucky escape when the wave surged into Macaronis Bay.
Eight Australians, an American and a New Zealander arrived in Padang on Wednesday and said they clung to surfboards to stay afloat as their boat caught fire.
Vice President Boediono visited the area by helicopter on Wednesday and called for coordination of aid distribution. “A lot of basic supplies have been sent from Jakarta,” he said. “But it needs to get to the people properly.”
“We must be tough in facing disasters,” he told villagers at Montei Baru-Baru on South Pagai. “We must be prepared for whatever happens, just as our ancestors were over thousands of years.”
In the village, 67 of the 301 residents are dead, their corpses not yet buried, and 64 are still missing, the vice president’s office said.
“We have nothing left,” village head Jersanius Sanaloisa told Boediono. His wife is one of the victims; his only child survived.
Meanwhile, the first relief goods arrived on the islands Wednesday afternoon, said Ade Edward, a disaster official.
And with clearer weather, Ade said, “We also have a chance to look for the missing from the sky and to survey the extent of the damage.”