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Aussie surfers survive tsunami tragedy
October 26, 2010
4:51 pm
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rath
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Nine Australians missing for almost 24 hours after a powerful earthquake triggered a deadly tsunami in Indonesia’s west are safe and well.

The 7.7-magnitude quake struck near the remote Mentawai Island chain on Monday night, generating massive waves that swept ashore, killing at least 23 people and washing away hundreds of homes.

Disaster management officials in Jakarta have put the number of missing at 167 but local officials put it is at 380.

Nine surfers from the MV Midas who survived the tsunami. Photo: Courtesy Channel Nine
Nine Australians and a Japanese man were in the area aboard surf charter boat MV Southern Cross when the quake hit.

Fears had been growing for the vessel, skippered by Australian Chris Scurrah and Japanese Akinori Fujita, but the men have finally made contact with their Padang-based company, Sumatran Surfariis.

Staff member Yuli Rahmi says the men were now on land on the island of South Pagai. The other Australian men on the Southern Cross were Clifford Humphries, Gary Mountford, Christopher Papallo, Alexander McTaggart, Neil Cox, Jeffrey Annesley, Stephen Reynolds and Colin Steele.

The three-metre-high wall of water swept away at least 10 villages, while at least 2000 people were seeking shelter in makeshift camps, Indonesian authorities said.

An official in Sumatra was last night reported as saying that the Southern Cross had never been missing, and that it had simply been out of contact.

‘‘There are no Westerners who have died or are injured. They are all safe,’’ Harmensyah, the head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency in West Sumatra, was reported as saying.

Earlier, Hal Scurrah, father of Chris Scurrah, the boat’s co-captain, told The Age he had received no confirmation that the group was safe. ‘‘It would be such a relief. We are all holding our breath,’’ he said from his home in Mt Eliza.

Mr Scurrah said it was not unusual for his son to be out of contact for days at a time. ‘‘We were all over there as a family when the big [Boxing Day] tsunami struck in 2004 and we didn’t even know about it until the next day. We were out at sea, out of contact and we are hoping that is the case,’’ he said.

Another group of Australians were lucky to survive after their boat, MV Midas, moored in the shallow Pasangan Bay near the famed Macaronis surf break, collided with another vessel as the wave hit.

Some of the surfers on board the MV Midas, nine of whom were Australians, were carried 200 metres inland, skipper Rick Hallett said.

‘‘We felt a bit of a shake underneath the boat ... then within several minutes we heard an almighty roar ... I immediately thought of a tsunami and looked out to sea and that’s when we saw the wall of white water coming at us,’’ he said.

The Australians were on the back deck when the wave hit, smashing the MV Midas into a neighbouring boat and causing fire to rip through the cabin.

‘‘We threw whatever we could that floated — surfboards, fenders — then we jumped into the water,’’ Mr Hallet said. ‘‘We just washed up in the wetlands, and scrambled up the highest trees that we could possibly find and sat up there for an hour and a half.’’

All 15 on board the MV Midas and those staying at the nearby Macaronis Resort, including 12 Australians, are accounted for.

It is believed the Southern Cross was moored much closer to the epicentre of the quake at Pulau Sanding, south of ‘‘the Holes’’ surf break.

‘‘It’s a bad anchorage and we are very worried about it,’’ Dave Jenkins, SurfAid’s founder, said earlier. ‘‘Where they were, they would have felt the tsunami for sure. We would have expected them to phone in by now.’’ Just how the boat was moored could prove critical to its fate. Anchorages in shallow water and in bays that funnel any wave can be extremely hazardous, and have a greater bearing on the safety of a boat than its proximity to the epicentre.

‘‘If you are in deep water, a ripple will go past and you will notice nothing,’’ said Tony Mascali, part-owner of the Macaronis Resort.

In 2005, Chris Scurrah and partner Christina Fowler spent $50,000 to create their own Boxing Day tsunami relief effort, delivering food and medical supplies to the remote islands.

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