The death toll from a tsunami that pummelled remote Indonesian islands is expected to pass 500, an official said on Thursday as questions mounted over whether a warning system had failed.
The official death count rose to 370 with 338 missing, but disaster management official Ade Edward said the toll would climb possibly by as much as 200.
Hopes were fading for hundreds of people still listed as missing after a huge wave triggered by a powerful earthquake hit the remote Mentawai islands Monday off the west coast of Sumatra.
Meanwhile, on the island of Java in the centre of the disaster-prone archipelago, a volcano which this week killed 32 people again spewed ash and deadly heat clouds, but there were no reports of damage.
Disaster response officials said bodies were being found on beaches and coastal areas in the Mentawais, where the tsunami had washed away entire villages.
“Ten minutes after the quake we heard a sound just like an explosion from outside -- it was then we realised there was a tsunami,” said 20-year-old Chandra on North Pagai, one of the two worst-hit islands. Dazed and exhausted, she was searching for her six-month-old baby boy, who has not been seen since the disaster.
Disaster management official Ade Edward said:”Of those missing people we think two-thirds of them are probably dead, either swept out to sea or buried in the sand.”
“When we flew over the area yesterday we saw many bodies. Heads and legs were sticking out
of the sand, some of them were in the trees. If we add another 200 to the toll it would be at least 543 dead.”
Mount Merapi erupts again
Indonesia's Mount Merapi volcano, which killed 32 people earlier this week, erupted again Thursday, spewing ash and deadly heat clouds, an official said.
Government volcanologist Surono said hot gas and ash spewed from the mouth of Mount Merapi, Indonesia's most active volcano. “We registered a small volcanic tremor. The threats are still there,” he said.
More than 50,000 people have moved into temporary shelters since Monday, when the government issued a red alert for Merapi, indicating that the “Mountain of Fire” could be about to erupt.
The next day a deadly series of massive eruptions left 32 people dead.
Many of the victims were buried in a mass grave earlier Thursday. afp, SLEMAN