Helicopters with emergency
supplies finally landed Wednesday on remote Indonesian islands
slammed by a tsunami that killed more than 300 people, while
elsewhere in the archipelago the toll from a volcanic eruption rose
to 30, including the mountain's spiritual caretaker.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono cut short a state visit to
Vietnam to deal with the dual disasters that struck Indonesia in one
24-hour period, straining the country's ability to respond.
The first aerial surveys of the region hit by the 10-foot
(three-meter) tsunami revealed huge swaths of land underwater and
the crumbled rubble of homes torn apart by the wave. One house lay
tilted, resting on the edge of its red roof, with tires and slabs of
concrete piled up on the surrounding sand.
Two days after an undersea earthquake spawned the killer wave,
the casualty count was still rising as rescuers landed for the first
time on the Mentawai island chain, which was closest to the
epicenter and the worst hit. Bad weather had kept them away
The first cargo plane loaded with 16 tons (14 metric tons) of
tents, medicine, food and clothes arrived Wednesday afternoon, said
disaster official Ade Edward. Four helicopters also landed in
Sikaap, a town on North Pagai island, which will be the center of
"Finally we have a break in the weather," said Edwards, putting
the number of people killed by the wave so far at 311. "We have a
chance now to look for more than 400 still missing." He said the
searches would take place b helicopter.
About 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) to the east in central Java,
meanwhile, disaster officials were scouring the slopes of
Indonesia's most volatile volcano for survivors after it was rocked
by an eruption Tuesday that killed at least 30 people, including an
83-year-old man who had refused to aandon his ceremonial post as
caretaker of the mountain's spirits.
Maridjan - entrusted by a highly respected late king to watch
over the volcano - has for years led ceremonies in which rice and
flowers were thrown into the crater to appease the mountain.
"We found his body," said Suseno, a rescue worer, amid reports
that he was kneeling face-down on the floor, a typical Islamic
prayer position, when he died.
Authorities warned the thousands who fled Merapi's wrath not to
return during Wednesday's lull in volcanic activity, but some
villagers were desperate to check on crops and possessions left
In several areas, everything - from the thinnest tree branches to
chairs and tables inside homes - was caked with ash that looked like
The Tuesday night blast eased pressure that had been building up
behind a lava dome perched on the crater. But experts warned the
dome could still colpse, causing an avalanche of the blistering
gas and debris trapped beneath it.
"It's a little calmer today," said Surono, the chief of Center
for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation. "No hot clouds,
no rumbling. But a lot of energy is pent up back there. There's no
telling what's next."
th the quake and the volcanic eruption happened along
Indonesia's portion of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a series of fault
lines that are prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity stretching
from the Western Hemisphere through Japan and Southeast Asia.
Tsunami disaster officials, meanwhile, were still tryin to get
to more than a dozen villages on the Mentawais - a popular surfer's
destination that is usually reachable only by a 12-hour boat ride.
But they were preparing for the worst Wednesday.
Officials say hundreds of wooden and bamboo homes were washed
away in more than 20 villages, displacing more thn 20,000 people.
Many were seeking shelter in makeshift emergency camps or with
family and friends.
The 7.7-magnitude quake struck late Monday just 13 miles (20
kilometers) beneath the ocean floor on the same fault line along
Sumatra island's coast that caused a 2004 quake and monster Indian
Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries.