Tsunami in Indonesia Claims Over 100 Lives

Hundreds more are missing after a 7.7-magnitude quake generated a tsunami that swept away 10 villages.

THE GIST

A 7.7-magnitude quake sparked a tsunami in the Mentawai Islands area of Indonesia.

The tsunami has killed at least 108 people and more than 500 are still missing.

The first tremor was followed by strong magnitude 6.1 and 6.2 aftershocks several hours afterwards.

At least 108 people were killed and more than 500 missing Tuesday, including a group of Australian surfers, after a tsunami triggered by a powerful earthquake hit a remote Indonesian island chain, destroying villages in its path.

The 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck in the Mentawai Islands area west of Sumatra late Monday, generating waves as high as three meters (10 feet) that swept away 10 villages, officials said.

One group of Australian tourists reported that their boat with 15 people aboard was destroyed by a "wall of white water" crashing into a bay after the undersea quake and said some had to cling to trees to survive.

"We felt a bit of a shake underneath the boat... then within several minutes we heard an almighty roar," said Rick Hallet, an Australian who operates a boat-chartering business in Sumatra.

"I immediately thought of a tsunami and looked out to sea and that's when we saw the wall of white water coming at us," he said.

Hendri Dori Satoko, a lawmaker in the Mentawai Islands, told MetroTV: "Our latest data from crisis centre showed that 108 people have been killed and 502 are still missing."

Disaster Management Agency spokesman Agolo Suparto added: "Ten villages have been swept away by the tsunami."

Indonesia sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" and the archipelago is frequently struck by powerful earthquakes, including one of 7.6 magnitude in September last year in Padang that killed about 1,100 people.

The 2004 Asian tsunami -- triggered by a 9.3-magnitude quake off Sumatra -- killed at least 168,000 people in Indonesia alone.

Health Ministry Crisis Centre head Mudjiharto said the Mentawai waves reached up to three metres high and waters swept as far as 600 meters (yards) inland on South Pagai island, the hardest hit.

"Eighty percent of buildings in Muntei village have been damaged by the waves and many people are missing there," Mudjiharto said.

He said medical personnel were on their way to the worst-hit areas in helicopters but rescue efforts have been hampered by disruption to communications in the region.

There are no commercial flights to the island and traveling by ferry from Sumatra can take at least half a day.

Rescuers have also launched a search for a boat believed to be carrying a group of nine Australians and a Japanese national that has been missing since the quake.

"We are sending a boat and a chartered plane to search for the boat," said Andrew Judge of SurfAid International.

It was reportedly not equipped with a satellite telephone but SurfAid's Dave Jenkins said its Australian captain had "been around here for a long time. He knew to contact in if he could. So that's why we're extra concerned."

The undersea quake hit at 9:42 p.m. (14:42 GMT) at a depth of 20.6 kilometers (12.8 miles), 280 kilometers south of Padang, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

"A significant tsunami was generated by this earthquake," said the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre. The tsunami warning was later withdrawn after the danger of further waves had passed.

The first tremor was followed by strong magnitude 6.1 and 6.2 aftershocks several hours afterwards.