Tsunami: rescue operations hampered by lack of transportation and volunteers
by Mathias Hariyadi
The evacuation of affected villages on Mentawai Islands is slower than expected, despite aid pouring in from abroad. The number of dead and missing continues to climb.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The lack of transportation, staff and volunteers is hampering the evacuation of the villages of Pagai Selatan and Pagai Utara, the most affected by Monday’s localised tsunami. Rescue operations were already a difficult task because of the remoteness of the Mentawai islands (West Sumatra), which are located some 13 hours by ferry from the district capital of Padang.

The latest figures put the death toll at d311 people, plus 426 missing. “More personnel and medical supplies are urgently needed in the worst affected islands such as Pagai Utara and Pagai Selatan,” Antarizon, a provincial rescue team, said.

Most relief material has not yet been shipped to the islands because of bad weather, with winds preventing ships from leaving port.

A small group of rescue workers has tried to reach the islands on small boats, but once on land they have not been able to reach the most devastated areas.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has interrupted a state visit to Vietnam, where he was supposed to participate in the ASEAN summit, to fly home to deal with the emergency. He ordered the armed forces to set up a rescue team and air transport to bring food supplies.

Foreign leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI, have extended their condolences, offering support to Indonesia. For now, Indonesian authorities have indicated that they can handle things. However, the situation is critical. The death toll from Monday’s tsunami set off by a 7.5 quake is bound to rise.

The authorities are also on high alert in regards to the Mount Merapi volcano, which began erupting on Tuesday, killing 30 people.

According to Surono, head of the Geology and Mitigation Bureau, “Tuesday’s night eruption is only a pause. We cannot predict what will happen in the coming hours,” he said, but “The scale of eruption could be much greater compared with the 2006 eruption”.