Rescue teams face stench of death, too few boats

Helping hand: Rescuers give water to a  survivor on tsunami-ravaged Pagai Island in Mentawai, West Sumatra, on Thursday. AP

Padang Ekspres.net-Helping hand: Rescuers give water to a survivor on tsunami-ravaged Pagai Island in Mentawai, West Sumatra, on Thursday. AP Rescuers scouring islands devastated by a tsunami in the Mentawai Islands, West Sumatra, found more bodies Thursday, raising the death toll from the quake-triggered disaster to 343.

This is still rising with hundreds missing as locals reported the waves in a number of areas had reached
six to 12 meters, much higher than the first reported waves of three
meters high.

Three days after the disaster, relief and rescue teams have reached every hamlet on the west coast of North and South Pagai as well as the Sipora Islands — three of the regency’s four main islands, but a lack of boats has limited aid distribution.

The regency’s lawmaker, Jan Winnen Sipayung, involved in the disaster relief effort at the main post in Sikakap district, told The Jakarta Post Thursday that every hamlet should have been reached to gain information on the disaster.

The emergency post’s data listed that 338 residents were still missing, while the disaster has injured a total of 404 others.

The giant waves destroyed 430 houses, damaged 190 others as well as flattened 10 churches and an elementary school. More than 2,000 people are displaced and living in tents.

Jan said the dead victims were found in 13 hamlets along the west coast of North and South Pagai districts and four other hamlets on Sipora Island.

“The main problem faced by the disaster command post to perform the relief mission is the limited number of boats to carry volunteers and distribute relief supplies to the affected locations,” he said.

Currently, only 15 motorboats were operating to distribute aid to 17 hamlets. It takes between one
and three hours to reach a hamlet from Sikakap.

“Some 300 volunteers are gathered at the Sikakap command post, waiting for transportation,” he said.

Masrizal, a relief supply distribution worker from the North and South Pagai disaster mitigation task force, said every hamlet had received some relief supplies, but in limited quantities.

“We want to distribute more aid but the boats are limited,” he said.

Task force leader Jaskamatir said the disaster areas were in dire need of food and medical supplies due to the huge number of evacuees. “Many bodies have not been buried deep enough. The stench is overwhelming and is certainly a health hazard for survivors,” he said.

On Thursday, search and rescue teams, kept away for days by stormy seas and bad weather, found roads and beaches dotted with swollen corpses lying on them, Hermansyah of the West Sumatra provincial disaster management center, told the Associated Press.

Hermansyah said the devastation he saw indicates the wave could have been higher than reported in some areas, perhaps more than six meters high.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his entourage, including First Lady Kristiani Herawati and several ministers, visited the worst-hit South Pagai Island on Thursday. The President arrived in the West Sumatra capital, Padang, on Wednesday, cutting short his presence at the ASEAN Summit in Hanoi.

According to Mentawai Islands Regency Legislative Council Speaker, Hendri Doris Satoko, who joined the entourage, said they went to Purourougat hamlet in Malakopak village, where the waves, reaching 12 meters high, killed 60 residents.

“The hamlet was home to 77 families or 377 people but the tsunami had wiped clean all the buildings there,” he told the Post, adding the President’s wife broke into tears when talking to a survivor.

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