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Elements Slow Aid in Indonesia, and New Eruption Raises Fears

Indonesian rescue workers struggled against rough weather and difficult terrain to reach tsunami victims on Thursday as the death toll continued to rise from the natural disasters that hit the archipelago nation this week on two separate fronts and just 24 hours apart.

Villagers shelter at a destroyed house at Taparaboat village in the Mentawai islands, West Sumatra, on October 28, 2010 after a 7.7-magnitude quake triggered a tsunami that hit the area. The death toll from a tsunami that pummelled remote Indonesian islands soared to 343 on October 28 as questions mounted over whether an elaborate warning system had failed.
Bay Ismoyo|AFP|Getty Images
Villagers shelter at a destroyed house at Taparaboat village in the Mentawai islands, West Sumatra, on October 28, 2010 after a 7.7-magnitude quake triggered a tsunami that hit the area. The death toll from a tsunami that pummelled remote Indonesian islands soared to 343 on October 28 as questions mounted over whether an elaborate warning system had failed.

In the remote Mentawai Islands west of Sumatra, aid workers said that the isolation of many villages as well as choppy seas meant that some victims had yet to receive any assistance three days after a magnitude 7.7 underwater quake sent a 10-foot-tall tsunami crashing onto land, smashing apart homes and killing hundreds.

A new eruption Friday morning at Mount Merapi on the island of Java, about 750 miles to the east, sent more hot ash and debris into the air and stirred fears of further destruction. Powerful eruptions late Tuesday killed 34 people and destroyed villages, said Nelis Zuliasri, a spokeswoman for the National Disaster Management Agency.

As a steady trickle of supplies reached the islands with the help of military ships and aircraft, officials raised the toll of the tsunami to 399 confirmed dead, The Associated Press reported. An estimated 16,000 people have been displaced, officials said.

Nearly 40,000 villagers who had fled plumes of hot ash were asked to stay in shelters while seismologists tried to determine whether the fresh eruptions meant that further destruction was on the way. There were no reports of anyone hurt in the latest eruption.

In the Mentawai Islands, which are among the most underdeveloped areas of Indonesia, aid workers said that assistance was still only trickling in to many hard-to-reach islands. “We’re still just trying to fulfill the basic needs — food, tents, blankets, things like that,” Ms. Zuliasri said.

Photographs showed rescuers, some wearing face masks, carrying corpses in yellow body bags in Pororogat on South Pagai Island, one of the Mentawais.

There were surprising tales of survival, as well. An 18-month-old baby was found alive in a clump of trees on Pagai Selatan island on Wednesday, according to The A.P. Some survivors recalled the first moments of the tsunami. Joni Sageru, 30, a fisherman on the island of Pagai Selaton, told the news agency that he was awakened by the quake and then heard screams urging everyone to run to higher ground.

“First, we saw seawater recede far away,” Mr. Sageru said. “Then, when it returned, it was like a big wall running toward our village. Suddenly trees, houses and all things in the village were sucked into the sea and nothing was left.”

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono flew by helicopter to the Mentawais to inspect the aid effort. He had cut short a visit to Vietnam and skipped a summit meeting of Southeast Asian leaders that began Thursday.

Anggraeni Puspitasari, a coordinator for the charity World Vision, said that poor weather was causing bottlenecks and slowing down aid and that the danger of disease was rising.

“The local government has provided two speedboats, but yesterday we were only able to get one out there,” she said from the West Sumatran capital city, Padang. “Today, only one could go as well. It’s because the weather is still unstable.”

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