A deadly earthquake-generated tsunami that struck the remote Mentawai Islands in Indonesia on Tuesday has again thrust surfers into the role of prominent relief workers.
The 7.7-magnitude earthquake was followed by an ocean surge that swept over the low-lying islands west of Sumatra, killing at least 113 villagers and destroying homes. As many as 500 people are missing; many are believed to have been swept into the ocean.
The Mentawais are a surfing paradise.
Nine Australian surfers aboard the charter vessel Southern Cross were out of contact for 21 hours but turned up unharmed, according to the newspaper Australian.
Surfers aboard two other charter boats, after the tsunami had caused their anchored vessels to collide and one of them to catch fire, were forced overboard and swept into the jungle. They climbed trees to escape water rushing over the island and reportedly are OK.
Macaroni's Surf Resort on North Pagai Island was among structures extensively damaged or destroyed by the tsunami.
In the tsunami's aftermath, given the region's isolation, surfers with groups such as Last Mile Operations and SurfAid International are providing assistance and involved in the search for missing villagers.
This also was true in 2004, when a series of earthquake-caused tsunamis killed more than 230,000 people over an area far more vast than the region affected by Tuesday's disaster.
At the Mentawais, which boast an idyllic setting warm water and perfect waves, surfers generally spend a week or more island hopping aboard charter boats. Those boats, some with surfers aboard, are currently being used to transport supplies and search for bodies and missing persons.
"On board we will be carrying vital aid and medicine and will be capable of operating an on-board clinic and of carrying out emergency evacuation."
Alan Rogerson, SurfAid's Mentawi program manager, filed this report at about the same time: "The tsunami has traveled up the east coast of Sipora and the villages of Bosua and Gobik have been hit. People are missing and one can expect further damage reports from the other low-lying communities from Pagai South up to Sipora."
Rogerson added that his group is coordinating with a local disaster risk management team "to assess the situation."
Meanwhile, as the search for missing persons and damage assessments continue, volcanic eruptions Tuesday on Mount Merapi, on the nearby island of Java, have caused thousands of villagers to flee from smoke and hot ask, creating a two-front disaster rescue-and-relief operation.
Java also is a surfing mecca and the surfers' relief operations will help there, too, if necessary. It remains unclear if the earthquake and the volcanic eruptions are related.
-- Pete Thomas
-- Images show a Mentawais wave and the main islands of the Mentawais chain
-- Editor's note: This post also appears on the GrindTv.com surfing and outdoor blogs