PADANG, Indonesia – Rescuers battled rough seas Tuesday to reach remote Indonesian islands pounded by a 10-foot tsunami that swept away homes, killing at least 113 people. Scores more were missing, and information was only beginning to trickle in from the sparsely populated surfing destination, so casualties were expected to rise.
With few able to get to the islands to help with searches, fisherman were left to find the dead and look for the living. Corpses were strewn about since there were not enough people to dig graves, according to the Mentawai district chief, Edison Salelo Baja. More than 4,000 people expected to spend the night without shelter because tents and other supplies had also not arrived.
The fault that ruptured Monday on Sumatra island’s coast also caused the 2004 quake and monster Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries.
Though hundreds of disaster officials were unable to get to many of the villages on the Mentawai islands – reachable only by a 12-hour boat ride – they were preparing for the worst.
“We have 200 body bags on the way, just in case,” said Mujiharto, who heads the Health Ministry’s crisis center, shortly before announcing a five-fold increase in the death toll.
Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity due to its location on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire – a series of fault lines stretching from the Western Hemisphere through Japan and Southeast Asia.
The country’s most volatile volcano, Mount Merapi, 800 miles to the east, started to erupt at dusk Tuesday as scientists warned that pressure building beneath its lava dome could trigger one of the most powerful blasts in years.
The 7.7-magnitude quake that struck late Monday just 13 miles beneath the ocean floor was followed by at least 14 aftershocks, the largest measuring 6.2, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Many panicked residents fled to high ground and were too afraid to return home.
That could account in part for the more than 500 people still missing, said Hendri Dori, a local parliamentaria.
“We’re trying to stay hopeful,” he said.