Indonesian authorities scrambled to deal Wednesday with two deadly events after a tsunami and volcanic eruptions struck in separate regions...
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesian authorities scrambled to deal Wednesday with two deadly events after a tsunami and volcanic eruptions struck in separate regions of the vast archipelago.
Rescue workers and fishermen searched for survivors in waters west of Sumatra Island after a powerful earthquake and a resulting tsunami late Monday killed at least 113 people and left up to 500 missing, officials said. Thousands more were homeless.
About 800 miles to the east, on the island of Java, thousands of villagers were fleeing multiple eruptions of Indonesia’s most volatile volcano, 9,737-foot Mount Merapi, after it began spewing clouds of hot ash in the early evening Tuesday. Twenty-five people have died, and at least 15 people were injured, some with severe burns.
Much of Indonesia lies in the seismically active “Ring of Fire,” a series of fault lines stretching from the Western Hemisphere through Japan and Southeast Asia. Experts said the quake was not big enough to have disturbed the volcano, and that the two events likely were unrelated.
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The tsunami, set off by a 7.7-magnitude undersea quake, slammed into the southern part of the remote Mentawai Islands, damaging villages and, authorities believe, sweeping scores out to sea. The islands are a popular destination for foreign surfers, particularly Australians.
Surge hit 10 feet
The surge reached as high as 10 feet and advanced as far as 2,000 feet inland, said officials at the Health Ministry’s crisis center.
The earthquake occurred along the same fault that produced a 9.1-magnitude quake on Dec. 26, 2004, spawning a tsunami that killed an estimated 230,000 people around the Indian Ocean. The hardest-hit area then was in Aceh province in northern Sumatra.
Monday’s quake was along a shorter section of the fault, about 500 miles southeast of the 2004 rupture. That segment last had a major quake in 1833, said Leonardo Seeber, a research scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades, N.Y.
David Walsh, an oceanographer at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, said the center issued a “local tsunami watch” seven minutes after the earthquake occurred, but that a “destructive widespread threat” did not exist. The warning was canceled hours later.
Walsh said the watch bulletin was conveyed to the Indonesian government, which issued its own watch but canceled it even earlier than the center did. He said a bulletin would not have spared people on the island because they were within approximately 60 miles of the quake’s epicenter. The tsunami would have hit them within minutes.
At one surf resort, a wall of water smashed wooden bungalows apart and left a tour boat in flames on the beach, said Rini Arif, a booking agent in Padang, on Sumatra.
“Everyone survived because when the quake struck they ran into our cafe, which is three stories high,” she said. “When they saw the burning boat, they all gathered upstairs.”
The scale of the destruction did not become clear until Tuesday, as rescuers and local officials crossed a Sumatran strait to reach the islands. Much of the search is at sea.
Priyadi Kardono, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency, said high waves and rough waters had meant outside authorities had still not reached some remote areas in the Mentawais.
“The data can still change because there are still a number of districts where we haven’t been able to get reports, where we’re still having communication problems,” he said.
At Mount Merapi, one of 129 active volcanoes in Indonesia, authorities had been anticipating an eruption, preparing refuges and medical and disaster-response teams as the mountain rumbled.
The volcano spewed an avalanche of blistering gases and rock fragments in 1994, killing 60 people; 1,300 people died in a 1930 eruption.
On Tuesday, the pressure building up beneath a lava dome produced four explosions starting around 5 p.m., Kardono said.
All of the people in the threatened area already had been evacuated, Kardono said.
Dr. Adi Mulyanto, of the Panti Nugroho Hospital in Sleman, said at least six people had been severely burned by hot air, with three suffering burns over 80 percent of their bodies, Reuters reported.
New York Times reporter
Henry Fountain and
The Associated Press
contributed to this report.