Tsunami death toll surpasses 300 as rescuers arrive at remote islands

October 28th, 2010 - 2:01 am ICT by BNO News  

JAKARTA, INDONESIA (BNO NEWS) — The death toll following a tsunami that wrecked villages on Indonesian islands off the western coast of Sumatra on late Monday has risen to more than 300, officials said on Wednesday.

Rescuers began to arrive at the islands on Wednesday, which were rattled by a massive 7.7-magnitude earthquake at 9.42 p.m. local time (1442 GMT) on Monday that generated a devastating tsunami. At least 10 villages were completely destroyed on the Mentawai Islands, located about 240 kilometers (149 miles) south of Padang, the capital and largest city of West Sumatra.

The initial earthquake struck about 20 kilometers (12.8 miles) deep, making it a shallow earthquake. Indonesia’s seismological agency immediately issued a tsunami warning for nearby coastlines, but the warning came too late for villages on the Mentawai Islands where a three-meter (9.8-feet) tsunami devastated towns near the coast.

As of late Wednesday, officials said at least 311 people had been killed while some 400 people remain missing. Most of those missing are presumed to have died, but some others may have went to higher ground and are simply unaccounted for.

According to survivors, a loud thunderous noise was heard about 10 minutes after the earthquake, which was in the most part underesitmated because it was not felt strongly. However, after the loud noise, people went outside and saw the wave approaching the land. Residents rushed to the hills in search of higher grounds, but the wave moved quickly, taking hundreds of people as it crashed down. A second wave also followed, resulting in even more casualties.

Planes and helicopters made their way to the islands, which is a popular surfing site although difficult to reach. As rescuers made the trip, aerial photos were taken, showing large areas of land covered with water and homes torn into pieces.

On December 26, 2004, one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded struck off the west coast of Sumatra. The 9.1-magnitude earthquake unleashed a deadly tsunami, striking scores of countries. In all, at least 227,898 people were killed.

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