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After Indonesia tsunami kills more than 150, surfers begin rescue efforts

As relief agencies scramble to bring supplies to Indonesia's remote Mentawai Islands where a tsunami struck, surfers already on the scene are providing assistance.

By Contributor / October 27, 2010

In Padang, West Sumatra, a rescue team prepares to assist victims of the 7.7-magnitude earthquake which struck off the coast of Sumatra triggering a deadly tsunami.

Rus Akbar/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom

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Jakarta, Indonesia

The Indonesian government and a host of relief agencies scrambled to pull supplies together Wednesday before making the 12-hour journey from Sumatra to the Mentawai Islands, where more than 150 people were killed after a powerful earthquake sparked a tsunami that struck the remote region on Monday.

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Two days after the 7.7-magnitude quake struck, little aid has reached the islands due to rough seas and stormy weather. The few reports trickling in have come mainly from survivors, and a few surf charters that were out on the water when the tsunami hit.

But it's surfer-supported groups, such as Last Mile Operations and SurfAid International, that have begun to provide assistance and search for the scores of villagers that remain missing.

“We will be poking in and out of small bays looking for villages in need,” says Matt George, the director of Last Mile Operations, an organization that specializes in providing aid during coastal disasters. George has chartered a boat and was loading up to leave Wednesday night along with 10 other relief workers and as many as 100 rescue buckets.

First responders: surfers

The D’Bora surf charter stationed off the southern end of Pagai island, the area closest to the epicenter, has been sending back reports of the damage. Last Mile Operations has used that information to put together buckets complete with fishing hooks, sarongs, blankets, tarps, rope, and small shovels.

“Anything that can get them under shelter and give them the ability to be clean and give them the opportunity to gather their own food from the jungle and the sea,” says George.

The response has been rapid, he explains, because those on the ground know what to anticipate from these kinds of disasters. George, who also assisted aid efforts during the 2004 tsunami that devastated the Indian Ocean region, says the surf charter business has a lot of experience working with relief organizations.

“The surfers here are being called up on the most because we know the islands like the back of our hands; we know the villages, we know the waters, we’re qualified captains and know how to navigate the reefs,” he says.

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