Volcanic Eruption Augments Indonesia’s Grief

Volcanic Eruption Augments Indonesia's GriefJakarta, Oct 29. -The eruption of Mount Merapi has added to the suffering in Indonesia, where the death toll could reach 500 from a tsunami triggered by a powerful earthquake off the coast of Sumatra.

On Tuesday, Mount Merapi exploded on the island of Java, causing a cloud of hot ash to rain down on surrounding villages. At least 28 people were killed by the blast of hot air released by the volcano, according to hospital sources, who said many more were being treated for burns.

Meanwhile, the death toll from the seaquake that pummelled remote western Indonesian islands late Monday is expected to exceed 500, an official said Thursday, as questions mounted over whether a warning system had failed.

According to the latest report, there were 343 fatal casualties from the three-meter high killer wave, with scores still missing. One report cites 338 people are unaccounted for.

Many today in Indonesia question what happened with the early warning system, and why they were caught unaware.

"Survivors said they had almost no warning that the three-meter wall of water was bearing down on them, despite the laying of a sophisticated network of alarm buoys off the Sumatran coast," the Jakarta Globe reported Thursday.

As the magnitude of the disaster became clear, many were asking whether the expensive warning system -established after the 2004 Asian tsunami which killed at least 168,000 people in Indonesia alone- had failed, the Globe reported.

The article said an official tsunami warning had been issued after the 7.7-magnitude quake, but it either came too late or did not reach the most threatened communities.

The Indonesian media is reporting that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited the area to console victims, some of whom broke down as they told the ex-general how they had lost everything to the sea.

Rescue teams are working hard to find more bodies or survivors, and the flow of aid was increasing. Medical personnel were arriving in helicopters but stormy weather has hampered the delivery of badly needed aid by boat. Troops and at least five warships have also been dispatched to the area. (Prensa Latina)