indonesia death toll.jpgAt least 408 people have been confirmed dead after a tsunami triggered by a powerful earthquake hit Indonesia’s western Mentawai Islands earlier this week, although officials say the death toll could be much higher.



Harmensyah, the head of the West Sumatra provincial disaster management centre, said on Friday that rescue teams “believe many, many of the bodies were swept to sea”.


Bodies have also been found buried on beaches and even stuck in trees across the islands.


More than 400 people are believed to be still missing after three-metre high waves battered the small group of islands, about 280km to the northwest of Sumatra, on Monday.


Bad weather that continues to hang over the western coast has made it hard for relief workers to ferry aid such as tents, medicine, food and water to the islands by boat from the nearest port of Padang, which is more than half a day away even in the best conditions.


Almost 13,000 people are living in makeshift camps on the islands after their homes were swept away.


Indonesia has dispatched troops and at least five warships to the region, but there is believed to be a need for more helicopters to

reach the most isolated communities, some of which lack roads and wireless communications.


Tsunami survivors have said they had almost no warning that the wall of water was bearing down on them, despite a sophisticated network of alarm buoys off the Sumatran coast.


While an official tsunami warning was apparently issued just after the 7.7-magnitude quake, it either came too late or did not reach

the communities in most danger.


One survivor, Borinte, a 32-year-old farmer, said the wave slammed into his community on North Pagai island only 10 minutes after residents had felt the quake.


He said he managed to stay alive by clasping to a piece of wood. His wife and three children were killed.


Indonesia straddles a region where the meeting of continental plates causes high seismic activity. It has the world’s largest number of active volcanoes and is shaken by thousands of earthquakes every year.


A 7.6-magnitude earthquake last year in Padang killed about 1,100 people, triggered by a 9.3-magnitude quake along the same fault line that caused the 2004 Asian tsunami.