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Rescuers Continue Search For Tsunami Victims

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Rescuers Continue Search For Tsunami Victims

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Rescuers Continue Search For Tsunami Victims

Rescuers Continue Search For Tsunami Victims

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NPR's Michele Norris talks to Dave Jenkins, founder of the group SurfAid International, about the group's relief operations in the Mentawai Islands of Indonesia. Hundreds died and more are missing after a 10-foot tsunami washed away entire villages on Monday.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Indonesia is struggling to recover from two natural disasters that hit this week. Mount Merapi erupted again today, two days after earlier the volcano killed 33 people. And 750 miles to the west, in the Mentawai Islands, rescue workers continue to search for survivors after a tsunami washed out entire villages on Monday. The death toll there stands at 370.

The islands are a popular surf spot, and among those responding to the tsunami disaster are members of SurfAid International, based in West Sumatra. I asked the group's founder, physician and surfer Dave Jenkins, about the devastation in the area.

Dr. DAVE JENKINS (Founder, SurfAid International): It's hard to describe, but imagine, like, your extreme island chain, not a small chain. Like, it's hundreds of miles of coastline, scattered villages of 300 to 500 people up the coastline, coconut farmers, fishermen and behind them dense jungle and in front coral reefs and large waves. So the major problem is logistics and communication. There's only a couple of places where you can get phone reception.

NORRIS: Was there any indication that there was a warning before the tsunami struck?

Dr. JENKINS: The warning that - some villages that would've had a disaster preparedness program, and they would have known, the warning is when the earthquake stops. If it lasts for longer than 30 seconds, and it's intense, then it's a high risk of a tsunami in this area.

So we have trained a small percentage of the villages to run to the hills and to have evacuation sites. But in these other communities that haven't had the benefits of that program, it does appear that a lot of them hadn't run sufficiently, and they got wiped out as a result.

NORRIS: Is this largely what you would consider to be remote or isolated fishing villages, or is this also some sort of resort area?

Dr. JENKINS: Well, it's largely an extremely remote environment. But it's also what we call the surfing Disneyland of the world. There are surf resorts, one of which I was there two weeks ago, and it's now completely destroyed.

And so yes, the surfers have come for many years, and we know all these villagers. We've run our malaria control program in every village. We're getting into these villages and getting information out.

But we certainly need help. These people are going to need help for a long time to come.

NORRIS: I'm reading here that you've sent already 1,000 shelter kits and 500 building kits. Where are people living right now, since their homes, their villages were essentially entirely wiped out?

Dr. JENKINS: Yeah, that's a big issue. They tend to head to the hills, as they should do of course, but their houses have been destroyed. So it's a matter of giving them the basics of life, of food and shelter, and the building kits are there to - you know, they're talented. They're very self-reliant, and every man in those villages knows how to build a house. Give them the construction kits, and they'll start rebuilding their village or at least some shelter up in the hills.

The other thing we give them is hygiene kits and mosquito nets to prevent diarrhea outbreaks and malaria outbreaks. So this is the fifth emergency response we've done. We know what to do. We just need more support to buy the resources.

NORRIS: Dr. Jenkins, all the best to you. Thank you very much for speaking with us.

Dr. JENKINS: Thank you.

NORRIS: Dr. Dave Jenkins is founder of SurfAid International. We reached him in Padang.

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