Rescuers in Indonesia say more than 270 people are now known to have been killed by a tsunami that devastated a group of islands in the west of the country.
Many hundreds are still missing in the Mentawai archipelago, an area known worldwide as a surfers’ paradise.
A 7.7 magnitude earthquake 78 kilometres off shore started the tidal wave barrelling towards coastline villages. Flimsy buildings were shattered all along the shore.
Indonesia’s president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono returned from an Asian leaders’ summit in Vietnam to supervise rescue efforts. He went immediately to Padong.
In one village, only 40 of the 200 inhabitants have been accounted for according to a regional government official.
Marinas and coastal shelters were badly hit by the tidal wave. A group of surfers from Australia and New Zealand sat on the quayside stunned, after their vessel burst into flames when another boat slammed into it, carried by the tsunami.
One of the crew on Freedom III, Awang, said: “We anchored about 50 metres off shore. Suddenly I saw a very big wave, three or four metres high. The other boat hit our boat and caught fire.”
Emergency services have been mobilised, their task made all the more difficult by the extent of the flooding. On one island, the waves swept 600 metres inland.