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October 29, 2010 Mentawai (KATAKAMI / THE JAKARTA GLOBE) — The death toll following the tsunami that hit the Mentawai Islands in West Sumatra on Monday climbed to almost 400 on Friday morning, as rescuers continued to race against time and unfavorable weather conditions to evacuate survivors and locate missing victims.
According to the Disaster Relief Operational Control Center, at least 50 more bodies were unearthed in the islands of North and South Pagai, bringing the total casualties to at least 394 people. At least 338 people are still missing.
Zulhendri, a coordinator at the West Sumatra chapter of the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI), said that many victims are still virtually untouched by relief aid, particularly at the southern tip of South Pagai, just 50 kilometers away from the epicenter of the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that triggered the three-meter high waves.
“Our volunteers tried to reach the locations by boat [on Thursday afternoon], but they were forced to return due to bad weather and rough waves. Their boat nearly capsized. Thank God they survived the weather,” Zulhendri said.
“We will try to reach remote areas in [South Pagai] island again on Friday,” he added.
The islands are sparsely populated, with less than 50 people per square kilometer, forcing rescuers to cover vast areas in search of survivors. The majority of homes in fishing villages were destroyed by the giant waves that swept 600 people inland.
“Coordination is difficult because communication is limited,” said Surung Sinaga, chairman of the West Sumatra Disaster Relief Ageny (BPBD). “We are trying to evacuate those who are gravely injured from the disaster and get them to a nearby hospital and health center.”
Surung added that there were at least 23,000 refugees who have been evacuated, most of whom are now living in the town of Sikakap, where aid and volunteers are being coordinated.