Planes Drop Food as Indonesia Struggles With Aid

MENTAWAI ISLANDS, Indonesia -- Relief workers used planes and chartered boats to bring food and supplies to the most remote corners of Indonesia's tsunami-ravaged islands Friday despite storms that kept helicopters and most boats idle days after the wave killed more than 400 people.

One group of aid workers battled fierce swells and sheets of rain to bring noodles, sardines and sleeping mats to villages in the Mentawai island chain that have not received any help since Monday's earthquake. In one village, most people were still huddling in a church in the hills, too afraid to come down even to get the aid.

Hundreds of miles away, meanwhile, a volcano on the island of Java that killed 35 people this week erupted five more times Friday, sending searing clouds of ash cascading down its slopes.

No more casualties were reported as the number of refugees swelled to 47,000.

Four days after the tsunami crashed into the Mentawai islands off Sumatra, details of survivors' misery and new accounts of the terrifying moments when the wave struck were still trickling out from the area, which was cut off by rough seas for nearly two days after the 7.7-magnitude earthquake that churned up the killer wave.

A group of surfers told of watching in horror as a roaring wall of water crossed a lagoon and slammed into their three-story thatch-roofed resort. The power of the wave shook the building so hard they feared it would collapse. All 27 people at the resort survived -- five of them by clinging to trees.

"It was noise and chaos. You can hear the water coming, coming, coming," Chilean surfer and videographer Sebastian Carvallo said Friday. "And then before the second wave hit the building, everyone was, like, screaming and when the wave hit the building you could only hear people praying."

Carvallo said at least two of the waves were at least 16 feet high. Officials have said there was only one wave 10 feet high, but several witnesses have described one or several taller than that.

Dozens of injured survivors of the tsunami languished at an overwhelmed hospital Friday, including a newly orphaned 2-month-old boy found in a storm drain. The injured lay on mats or the bare floor as rainwater dripped onto them from holes in the ceiling and intravenous tubes hung from plastic ropes strung from the rafters. The infant, with cuts on his face, blinked sleepily in a crib. Hospital workers named him Imanual Tegar. Tegar means "tough" in Indonesian.

"We need doctors, specialists," nurse Anputra said at the tiny hospital in Pagai Utara -- one of the four main islands in the Mentawai chain slammed by Monday's tsunami.

Officials say 20,000 survivors on the islands are homeless. Many were sorely in need of help, which the government was struggling to deliver.

While tons of aid has reached the islands' main towns, many farther-flung villages are accessible only by foot or sea because roads are too old or damaged for large trucks. Storms, however, have made the waters too dangerous for small boats, West Sumatra Gov. Irwan Prayitno told reporters. Even when seas calm down, another official said the government hasn't been able to gather enough boats to address the scale of the disaster, making do with just a few dozen wooden boats with outboard motors.

Despite the challenges, a group of 50 private aid workers did set out by sea in a 75-foot vessel Friday for villages along the southern coast of South Pagai. In Limu, dozens of houses were destroyed, some swept off their foundations. Dead chickens littered the shoreline.

Villagers eagerly grabbed the boxes of sardines and noodles and the sleeping mats the workers delivered, though many were too terrified to come down to the beach. There were no deaths in Limu, but one person was injured.

Government teams also delivered food -- mostly boxes of instant noodles -- by dropping it out of Hercules planes. Local television footage showed survivors running to pick up the boxes.

The toll from the tsunami and the earthquake beneath the Indian Ocean that spawned it rose to 408 on Friday as officials found more bodies, and 303 people were still missing and feared swept out to sea, said Agus Prayitno of the West Sumatra provincial disaster management center.

Along with those killed by Mount Merapi's eruption this week, the number of dead from the two disasters, which struck within 24 hours of each other, has now reached 443. Officials said two more people died of burns from Tuesday's blast, bringing the volcano's death toll to 35.

After a lull that allowed mourners to hold a mass burial for victims, the volcano rumbled with three small eruptions Thursday and five early Friday, according to Subandriyo, a senior government volcanologist. There were no reports of new injuries or damage.

At least 47,000 people who live around Mount Merapi are staying in government camps or with friends and relatives, the National Disaster Management Agency said.

The volcano's activity appeared to be easing pressure behind a lava dome that has formed in the crater, said Safari Dwiyono, a scientist who has been monitoring Merapi for 15 years.
"If the energy continues to release little by little like this, it reduces the chances of having a bigger, powerful eruption," he said.

Residents from Kinahrejo, Ngrangkah, and Kaliadem -- villages that were devastated in Tuesday's blast -- crammed into refugee camps. Officials brought cows, buffalo and goats down the mountain so that villagers wouldn't try to go home to check on their livestock.