Tsunami death toll hits 300 as rescuers finally make contact
Helicopters with emergency supplies yesterday finally landed on remote Indonesian islands struck by a tsunami that killed more than 300 people.
Elsewhere 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. The first aerial surveys of the region hit by the 10-foot tsunami revealed huge swathes of land under water.
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 epicentre and the worst hit. Bad weather had kept them away previously.
The first cargo plane, loaded with 16 tonnes of tents, medicine, food and clothes, arrived yesterday, said disaster official Ade Edward. Four helicopters also landed in Sikakap, a town on North Pagai island, which will be the centre of relief operations.
"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 by helicopter.
About 800 miles to the east in central Java, disaster officials were scouring the slopes of Indonesia's most volatile volcano for survivors after it was rocked by an eruption on Tuesday that killed at least 30 people, including an 83-year-old man who had refused to abandon 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.
The Tuesday night blast eased pressure that had been building up behind a lava dome perched on the crater. But experts warned that the dome could still collapse, causing an avalanche of the blistering gas and debris trapped beneath it.
Both 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 trying 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.
Officials say hundreds of wooden and bamboo homes were washed away in more than 20 villages, displacing more than 20,000 people. Many were seeking shelter in makeshift emergency camps.
The 7.7-magnitude quake struck late on Monday just 13 miles beneath the ocean floor on the same fault line along Sumatra island's coast that caused the 2004 quake and monster Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries.