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Underwater Landslide May Have Triggered Tsunami In Indonesia


More than 370 people are believed dead after a tsunami struck Indonesia on Saturday. That death toll is sadly expected to rise with dozens of people still missing. More than a thousand others were injured. The tsunami hit between Java and Sumatra, the two most populous islands in Indonesia. Officials there are blaming this on underwater landslides caused by volcanic activity. And I'm joined now by Kathy Mueller. She is in Palau, Indonesia. She's with the Red Cross. And Kathy, thanks for joining us.


GREENE: I just want to ask you - I know you're not in the zone itself that was hit by this tsunami, but you're in communication with a lot of your colleagues who are. What are you hearing? Where do things stand?

MUELLER: Right. So the Indonesian Red Cross - they deployed teams of volunteers - more than 117 volunteers to the tsunami-affected area immediately after the tsunami occurred a couple of nights ago now here. And those teams have been involved from the get-go. They're working again today. And there are two main priorities. So the one is to make sure that people who are - who have survived this disaster have their immediate needs met and then to also work alongside government responders to conduct search and rescue. And if there is anybody who is still trapped in the rubble - to pull them to safety as quickly as possible.

GREENE: One of the things that many of us have seen is the shocking video that's been going around online of these musicians who were playing, evidently, when this tsunami hit. I mean, just - it's stunning, first of all. And it looks like people were just totally caught off guard by this.

MUELLER: It is a horrific event, no doubt. A wide area has been impacted, basically the entire coastline - the western coastline of Java Island. There are a lot of communities we know which have not yet been accessed. And it's going to take, you know, some time before we get a fully clear picture of what the full extent of the damage is. We do know that generally after a disaster of this size that people do need the basics. Imagine yourself if your home crumbled around you today - the kind of things that you would need. You need shelter. You need food. You need clothing. You need access to health care. You need clean water, blankets - basic items that you would find in a house that help make your daily living more comfortable. So this is something that the Indonesian Red Cross is doing. They're bringing in lots of blankets and tarpaulins. They've actually become quite proficient since the Indian Ocean tsunami back in 2004 in the purification of water and the distribution of water. So they're doing that here in Sulawesi to the earthquake and tsunami response where I am. But now they're also deploying 14 water trucks to Java Island and to Sumatra to make sure that people there have clean water to drink.

GREENE: And you mentioned other tsunamis. I mean, you are there in Indonesia responding to the earthquake and tsunami that struck earlier this year in another part of Indonesia. I think more than a thousand people were killed that - in that event. Where do recovery efforts stand there, and what lessons can be learned for the current response?

MUELLER: Well, there's - of course there's always lessons to learn from any response. Every disaster has its own unique context. No response is ever perfect. So there's always the opportunity to learn and to improve. Yeah, I would hesitate to say I guess people are a little bit tired now. This is the third major disaster that Indonesia has experienced since the end of July - a series of massive earthquakes on the island of Lombok, followed by the tsunami and earthquake in Sulawesi and now, of course, the latest tsunami. So in terms of recovery efforts here in Sulawesi, what we're looking at is people are still in tented camps. That's not unexpected. We're still only three months into the response, but we have thousands of people living in tents. And while the tents serve a purpose in the immediate emergency phase, it's now time to start moving them into safer and more sturdy accommodations.

GREENE: All right. We have been speaking with Kathy Mueller with the Red Cross. She is in Indonesia where it is believed more than 280 people were killed in a tsunami over the weekend. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.