MENTAWAI ISLANDS, Indonesia — A group of private aid workers battled fierce swells and driving rain that kept most craft on shore Friday, managing to deliver food and other supplies to desperate survivors on the islands hardest hit by a tsunami that killed more than 400 people.
Government agencies pulled back boats and helicopters that had been ferrying aid to the most distant corners of the Mentawai islands and instead resorted to air-dropping boxes of aid from planes.
On a borrowed 75-foot (24-meter) cruiser, aid workers faced rough seas and sheets of rain — plus miserable seasickness — to bring noodles, sardines and sleeping mats to villages 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.
Dozens of injured survivors of the tsunami, meanwhile, languished at an overwhelmed hospital Friday. They 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.
“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 tsunami, which was triggered by a 7.7-magnitude earthquake.
Inside the tiny hospital, a man cradled his screaming son as staff tended to the child’s broken arm. The 35-year-old described how his two other young children were ripped from his embrace by the towering wave and sucked out to sea.
Health workers also cared for a newly orphaned 2-month-old boy found in a storm drain. The infant, with cuts on his face, blinked sleepily in a crib. Hospital workers named him Imanual Tegar. Tegar means “tough” in Indonesian.
The toll from the earthquake and the tsunami it spawned 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 centre.
Officials say 13,000 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 (24-meter) vessel Friday for villages along the southern coast of South Pagai.
Soon after the wave-breaking boat set out, it became apparent why other vessels had been kept back. Nearly all the 50 relief workers on board were ill from the pounding waves and the deck had to be hosed off at one point to clear vomit.
Still, the mission was able to bring the first help to the village of Limu, where dozens of houses were destroyed, some swept off their foundations, and 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 instant noodles — by dropping it out of Hercules planes. Local television footage showed survivors running to pick up the boxes.
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 tsunami.
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 (five meters) high. Early reports said there was only one wave 10 feet (three meters) high, but several witnesses have since described one or several taller than that.
Hundreds of miles (kilometres) from the tsunami zone, 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.
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.
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.
Associated Press writers Achmad Ibrahim in the Mentawai islands, Slamet Riyadi at Mount Merapi, and Irwan Firdaus and Kay Johnson in Jakarta contributed to this report.