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Mentawai death toll revised to 445

The death toll from the Mentawai earthquake and tsunami is officially 445 as of Saturday, the West Sumatra Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) said.

“The BPBD reported that 445 people died, 58 people were still missing, 173 people sustained heavy injuries, 325 people sustained light injuries and 15,353 successfully evacuated during the Mentawai tsunami,” Andi Arief, the special presidential aide for disaster management, was reported as saying by news portal detik.com.

An earthquake triggered tsunami, with waves reaching 10-feet high, hit the Mentawai Islands off the coast of Sumatra on Oct. 25.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, accompanied by First Lady Kristiani Herawati and several ministers, visited Mentawai three days after the disaster struck to ensure that victims received relief aid.

Betumonga village in North Pagai district sustained the highest death toll, with 114 and 121 deaths in the hamlets of Muntie and Sabeugunggung respectively, the BPBD said.

With 58 deaths, the hamlets of Balerak Sok and Taparaboat in the village of Malakopa sustained high casualties as well, news portal kompas.com reported.

The remaining casualties were from the villages of Bosua and Beriuleu in South Sipora district, Bulasat in South Pagai, Silabu in North Pagai and Taikako in Sikakap district.

The Head of the West Sumatra Disaster Management Operation Control previously claimed the death toll was lower than earlier numbers because several people, who had been listed as dead, were found alive.

Two weeks ago, 449 people were reported as dead, four more than the latest figures.

Despite the gravity of the disaster and ensuing chaos of the relief efforts, West Sumatra Governor
Irwan Prayitno still had time for an overseas trip without the President’s consent, which incited
a harsh response from State Secretary Sudi Silalahi, ministers and legislators.

“Give me a week to study the matter first,” Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi said Saturday in reference to possible sanctions against Irwan.

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Walkie-talkies handed out for Mentawai relief effort

West Sumatra Disaster Mitigation Agency’s Operation Control Center has distributed 20 walkie-talkie sets to a number of villages hit by the recent tsunami.

The center also provided two motorboats and two dirt motorbikes to help distribute aid. Twenty more motorcycles were set to follow. .

“The sea route is very difficult due to bad weather. We will try to distribute aid over land by motorcycles which can travel along paths from the east coast,” operation control center head Ade Edward said recently.

Ade and his team had brought with them a special communications minivan from Padang to Sikakap, which was equipped with a high-speed Internet link.

He said the rescue operation would end Nov. 11.

Volunteers are now focusing on handling the media, aid distribution and evacuation, while others are involved in repairing damaged roads and bridges. — JP

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Bleak future in store for weary survivors

Survivors of the deadly earthquake-triggered tsunami in the Mentawai Islands face an uncertain future as they attempt to rebuild their lives.

They might personally be relieved at finding themselves safe, but for those who have lost everything, the future is as frightening as their tsunami ordeal. They are struggling to raise money for living and for their children.

“I’m healing well, but I’m still a little sore,” Asaril Sababalat told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

He is one of many who needs time to recover from injuries, but what bothers Asaril the most is money.

He said he lived a financially comfortable life in Muntei Baru-Baru, located on the west coast of North Pagai Island. The hamlet was among those wiped out by the waves on Oct. 25.

Asaril said he used to have a 5-hectare cocoa plantation with 4,000 trees and was planning to harvest the crop in three years. He said he also planted thousands of coconut trees and had two boats that he rented out. Asaril said he also bred 24 pigs and 50 chickens.

All but his boats are gone.

To add to his misery, he lost three of his five children and his wife Rospiana Sabeleau remains missing.
The tsunami killed 447 people and left 56 missing. The wave also seriously injured 170 and inflicted light injuries on 325 others. More than 15,000 have been forced to flee.

The tsunami destroyed five schools, six government offices, seven bridges, seven houses of worship, two resorts and one ship.

Asaril and some family members were at home when the disaster struck. Asaril said he had gone out to survey any damage from the earthquake when the tsunami hit.

Two of Asaril’s children survived the disaster because they were at their Christian boarding school in Nemnem Leleu, Sikakap.

“School starts on Monday, but I can’t pay,” Asaril said.

He said he used to earn Rp 2 million renting out his boats, but now needs Rp 4 million to repair both.

“I wish things return to normal soon. I need seeds to start planting again and money to repair the boats.”

Former Mentawai councilor Kortanius Sabeleakek said the government would face a tough task helping people get back on their feet financially.

“Fishermen are still traumatized about going out to sea. Farmers face the daunting task of restoring cultivation with their land swamped by sea water,” he said. He joined a relief team to distribute aid to victims.

On the islands’ west coast, where the tsunami devastated villages, cultivated land had not extended more than 600 meters from the coast, as the higher ground was not fertile, Kortanius said.

“Plantations and paddy fields have been destroyed,” he said.

He added that the government plan to relocate people to higher ground was unfeasible given the unsuitability of the land.

Referring to previous relocations, he said people built their lives close to the sea, not mountains. After the 2007 earthquake, residents of Balekraksok hamlet were moved 7 kilometers away from the coast, but gradually drifted back, as their livelihoods depended on the sea.

They moved into their old homes before this latest tsunami came, killing 27 and leaving two missing.

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