Indonesian Tsunami Relief Effort Hampered by Storm

Indonesian Tsunami Relief Effort Hampered by Tropical Storm
A man rides a motorcycle as Mount Merapi spews hot clouds of ash in the background at Kemalang. Photographer: Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images

Indonesian relief workers are battling 6-meter-high (20-foot) waves whipped up by Tropical Cyclone Orchid as they ferry supplies to survivors of a tsunami that hit the Mentawai Islands off Sumatra’s coast a week ago.

Rough seas are forecast for Sumatra’s west coast until Nov. 8, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency said on its website. The death toll from the Oct. 25 tsunami was revised down to 431 yesterday, from 450, with 88 people still missing, according to the National Disaster Management Agency.

“Rescue teams are facing great danger from the threat of the tropical cyclone,” Ade Edward, operational head at the West Sumatra Regional Disaster Management Agency, said by phone from the provincial capital, Padang. “A rescue team that brought logistics supplies was swept away by a high tide yesterday, and they are still on an island somewhere near Mentawai.”

Indonesia is struggling to recover from two disasters that struck the Southeast Asian nation within a day of each other. The death toll from eruptions of Mount Merapi in central Java since Oct. 26 reached 39, the disaster agency said.

Mount Merapi is still spewing ash, though is less active today, said Oka Hamid, a spokesman at the Red Cross Indonesia’s Yogyakarta branch. More eruptions are expected, R. Sukhyar, head of the energy ministry’s geology agency, said yesterday.

“We gave counseling to the elderly people and children so that they’re not traumatized,” Hamid said by telephone today.

Airlines Affected

Indonesia’s Transport Ministry ordered airlines to change flight routes to avoid volcanic ash from Mount Merapi, spokesman Bambang Ervan said, adding that airports in nearby cities including in Solo, Yogyakarta and Semarang are still operating.

The ministry hasn’t received any reports of flight cancellations by Malaysia’s AirAsia Bhd. or Singapore Airlines Ltd.’s Silk Air, Ervan said by phone from Jakarta. AirAsia and Silk Air temporarily canceled flights to airports near the volcano, the Associated Press reported today.

Widijastoro Nugroho, the marketing and distribution director at PT Indonesia AirAsia, didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone today.

Rescuers set up additional shelters for people living near the edge of Merapi’s 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) danger zone as the number of evacuees increased to 73,446 earlier today, up from 69,000, Nelis Zuliasri, a spokeswoman for the National Disaster Management Agency, said by telephone from Jakarta.

The agency may continue to revise down the death toll from the tsunami, after rescuers found survivors who were earlier reported killed, Zuliasri said.

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