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135 people feared killed in Indonesia tsunami found alive

/ Source: msnbc.com news services

Up to 135 people reported missing after a tsunami wave hit Indonesia, killing more than 400 people, have been found alive, according to reports.

Sutrisno, vice-chairman of the National Agency of Disaster Mitigation (BNPB), said the death toll as of Saturday at 1 a.m. ET was 413, China's Xinhua news agency said.

"As many as 163 others are still missing, reduced from 298 in the previous data as 135 of them are already found alive," Sutrisno told Xinhua in a brief message.

The agency also said a total of 517 houses were destroyed by the giant wave with a further 204 sustaining damage.

Meanwhile Indonesia's military forced villagers off the slopes of the country's most volatile volcano Saturday as it unleashed a new powerful explosion that claimed another victim and temporarily shut down an airport. Officials warned it would be some time before life returns to normal.

It was unclear how the 135 people had survived and whether this was in a single incident although the U.K.'s Sky News reported they had managed to get to higher ground.

But a Chilean surfer, who was among those known to survive, provided a detailed account of his personal survival story.

Sebastian Carvallo told fled to the highest point he could find — the third floor of a thatch-roofed beach house — as three towering waves struck.

He had been showing surfing videos to fellow guests on his last night in the area when the powerful earthquake struck. When he heard a distant roar two minutes later, he knew instantly that he had to run.

He grabbed his computer and his camera, rounded up the other guests and rushed to the top of the building.

From that vantage point overlooking the lagoon, Carvallo and the others had a terrifying front-row seat Monday night as waves struck, shaking the building so violently they thought it would collapse.

Noise 'like a train out of control'
"We heard this huge noise, like a train out of control. We just ran to the top of the building,"  Carvallo, 29, said Friday in an interview with The Associated Press.

"It was noise and chaos. You can hear the water coming, coming, coming. And then before the second wave hit the building, everyone was screaming and when the wave hit the building you could only hear people praying," he said.

A videographer, Carvallo managed to shoot the frenzied moments of panic inside the Macoroni Surf Resort on North Pagai.

He estimated that two of the waves were at least 16 feet high. Early reports said there was only one wave that was 10 feet high, but some witnesses have since described one or more waves that were taller.

Incredibly, all 19 guests and eight Indonesian staff at the resort survived — even though five people were caught outside.

Two of them climbed palm trees to escape the high water and three others wrapped their arms around tree trunks and clung for their lives.

Carvallo described the ordeal as "the scariest moment in my life."

After daylight Tuesday, Carvallo shot video of destroyed villas and the debris on the shore.

By Friday, Carvallo was out of the tsunami zone and headed back to Chile, grateful to have survived. "At the moment, I'd like to be safe," he said.

Still, he said he'd almost certainly return to Indonesia one day, perhaps to the same islands.

"In my opinion, Mentawais is a paradise," he said. "It's a perfect place for surf in the world. And the people are very nice."

The Mentawai islands are revered by surfers for their consistently high swells and perfectly formed waves breaking on their shores in the Indian Ocean. Dozens of surfing resorts and wave-chasing boats operate there and after the tsunami, many have lent their boats to the relief effort.

Carvallo was wrapping up an eight-week stay on North Pagai, where the resort owner had hired him to make promotional videos.

Villagers refuse to evacuate
Having traveled to the Mentawais once before for the surf, he had jumped at the chance — provided he still had time to catch a few waves too. He had been planning one last surf in the morning before he left because the forecast was for unusually big waves.

Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away at the volcano, Mount Merapi, erupted once again early Saturday, said Surono, chief of the Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation.

Some villagers refused to leave their homes along the mountainside's fertile slopes, saying they wanted to check on their livestock and protect their homes, and the military was called in to help.

Local television showed one woman who refused evacuation orders being pinned to a stretcher as she screamed and cried in protest.

A 35-year-old woman died during a chaotic evacuation, bringing the death toll since the first big blast Tuesday to 36, the Indonesian Red Cross said.

Saturday's powerful 21-minute eruption briefly forced the closure of the airport in the nearby city of Yogyakarta, 12 miles south of the volcano.

"We were worried about visibility and thick dust that piled up on the south of the runway," said Naelendra, an airport official. "But things are back to normal now."

At least 47,000 people who live around Mount Merapi are staying in government camps or with friends and relatives, the National Disaster Management Agency said.

Officials earlier said the volcano's activity appeared to be easing pressure behind a lava dome that has formed in the crater, but Subandrio, who heads the nearby volcanology center, warned Saturday the worst may be yet to come.

Magna forming in the crater appeared to be thickening and high-pressure gas was building up behind it, he said.