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Sumatran tsunami kills more than 100; hundreds missing

Image: In this picture taken in Padang, West Su
On Tuesday, a rescue team in Padang, West Sumatra, prepares to evacuate victims of the 7.5-magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of Sumatra in the Mentawai Island area. The quake triggered a deadly tsunami.Rus Akbar / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Rescuers battled rough seas Tuesday to reach remote Indonesian islands pounded by a 10-foot tsunami that swept away homes, killing more than 100 people. Up to 500 more were missing and information was only beginning to trickle in from the sparsely populated surfing destination, so casualties were expected to rise.

With few able to get to the islands to help with searches, fisherman were left to find the dead and look for the living. Corpses were strewn about since there were not enough people to dig graves, according to the Mentawai district chief, Edison Salelo Baja.

More than 4,000 people expected to spend the night without shelter because tents and other supplies had also not arrived.

The 7.5 magnitude quake hit 78 km west of South Pagai, one of the Mentawai islands, late on Monday. Local legislator Hendri Dori Satoko told Metro TV the latest toll was 108 dead and 502 missing, Reuters reported.

The death toll stood at 113, according to The Associated Press. While there was no explanation for the different numbers, discrepancies are common the immediate aftermath of such events.

Most buildings in the coastal village of Betu Monga were destroyed, said Hardimansyah, an official with the regional branch of the Department of Fisheries.

"Of the 200 people living in that village, only 40 have been found. 160 are still missing, mostly women and children," he told Reuters by phone. "We have people reporting to the security post here that they could not hold on to their children, that they were swept away. A lot of people are crying."

Hardimansyah, who has only one name, said 80 percent of the houses in the area were damaged and food supplies were low.

The fault that ruptured Monday on Sumatra island's coast also caused the 2004 quake and monster Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries. It was the deadliest tsunami on record.

A day after the quake struck 13 miles beneath the ocean floor, rescuers were still struggling to get to the Mentawai islands — which are closest to the epicenter — because of strong winds and rough seas on the way to the islands that can only be reached by a 12-hour boat ride.

A tourist boat carrying between eight and 10 Australians has been out of radio contact since the quake, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement.

The Macaronis surfing resort on North Pagai island was also hit. In an official press release, World Surfaris said Macaronis had "experienced a level of devastation that has rendered the resort inoperable."

Reports via Facebook from a surfer at the resort suggested that all villas had been "wiped out" by the tsunami.

A report posted on the Surfaid website by one of the aid organization's staff members described a three-meter-high tsunami crashing through the resort and boats knocking together, then bursting into flames.

Guests and crew from one boat were washed into the jungle and took more than an hour to find their way back to the beach, the staff member, Tom Plummer, said.

"There was a lot of debris floating in the water, including bar stools and other pieces of furniture from Macaronis Resort," he said.

Satoko, head of the regional government in the affected area, told Metro TV that some of the missing may have taken refuge on higher ground.

Local police on the Mentawai islands were searching for missing people and setting up emergency posts, said Ronald, a police officer at Sikakap district police station.

"We are predicting that people will need food supplies and shelter. The rain is coming down very hard, the wind is very strong," he said.

Mudjiarto, the head of the disaster response unit at the Health Ministry, told Reuters that two bodies had been found near Sipora island and that several people were still missing.

In South Pagai island, waves penetrated about 600 meters into coastal villages, while in North Pagai island, waves reached to the roof of local houses, he said.

David Walsh, of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, told The New York Times the center had issued a local tsunami watch just minutes after the earthquake, but the watch was canceled hours later because there was no threat of widespread destruction.

The Indonesian government also issued, then canceled a tsunami watch bulletin. Edwards told the Times no bulletin would have helped residents of the Mentawai islands, who were close to the epicenter of the earthquake, and would have been hit by the tsunami within minutes.