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Tsunami and volcano response: Indonesia assesses back-to-back disasters

A volcanic eruption in Central Java sent thousands of panicked villagers fleeing from their homes as government officials attempted to assess the full damage from an tsunami in western Indonesia that killed more than 100 people less than 24 hours earlier.

By Correspondent / October 26, 2010

A volunteer watches as Mount Merapi spews volcanic smoke in the background in Kaliadem, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on Oct. 26. Indonesia's most volatile volcano started erupting Tuesday, after scientists warned that pressure building beneath its dome could trigger the most powerful eruption in years.

Gembong Nusantara/AP

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Jakarta, Indonesia

A volcanic eruption on Java, Indonesia's most populous island, sent thousands of panicked villagers fleeing from their homes as government officials attempted to assess the full damage from a tsunami in western Indonesia that killed more than 100 people less than 24 hours earlier.

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Officials in Central Java were responding to the eruption late Tuesday of Mount Merapi, one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes. Volcanologists who had been monitoring Merapi since last week raised the alert status to its highest level Monday, ordering thousands of people living within six miles of the crater to evacuate.

Off the coast of Sumatra, roughly 1,100 miles away, Indonesian emergency responders were still assessing the impact of Monday's tsunami. The head of Indonesia’s disaster management agency, Wisnu Wijaya, said the local government sent a rapid response team Tuesday afternoon with basic medical supplies and communication equipment to determine what was needed on the remote Mentawai Islands, where a 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck late Monday night triggering a 10-foot-high tsunami that displaced thousands land left more than 500 missing.

The islands are located 175 miles from Padang city on Sumatra, where a powerful 7.6-magnitude quake last year killed nearly 1,200 people. Monday’s temblor jolted the west coast of Sumatra, setting off early warning systems installed as part of the government’s rapid response plan for natural disasters.

But because of they island’s remoteness, reports on the extent of the damage only began to trickle in late Tuesday. Wijaya said high waves and poor access to communications posed problems for rescuers trying to reach the Mentawais, a rugged island group that is popular with surfers but otherwise rarely visited.

An official with the regional branch of the Department of Fisheries, told Reuters that 80 percent of the houses in the area were damaged and food supplies were low.

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