10 Australians Missing in Tsunami

Rescuers are searching for a group of Australians missing on a boat after an earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

The undersea quake, which had a magnitude of at least 7.5, struck at 9:42pm (local time) yesterday off the Mentawai Islands.

It is believed there are nine Australians on the surfing charter boat, which is thought to have been in the affected area at the time of the quake.

The boat was due to return to West Sumatra next week.

Two charter boats are searching for the group of surfers.

A Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) spokeswoman says efforts to contact the boat have been hampered by poor telephone coverage.

Dave Jenkins from the humanitarian organisation SurfAid says the boat is skippered by Australian Chris Scurrah.

“He’s been around here for a long time. He knew to contact in if he could,” Mr Jenkins said.

“So that’s why we’re extra concerned.

“They were closest to the epicentre on a little island down that way, so we have significant concerns about them.

“We are coordinating with the charter boat down there at the moment to get down there as soon as we can to check [on] them.”

The boat is not equipped with a satellite phone.

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd says officials are continuing in their efforts to locate the boat.

“Of course it’s possible that we simply have a telecommunications problem – the mobile phone system is down – but to be absolutely certain, I have been in contact with our ambassador in Jakarta to ensure that all efforts are being made to make contact with the vessel and to work with the Indonesian authorities on the ground concerning their whereabouts and their wellbeing,” he said.

Indonesian emergency officials are relying on two-way radios to gather information about damage and injuries.

A tsunami warning was cancelled soon after it was issued last night, however officials say a wall of water did wash ashore.

The head of Indonesia’s disasters management agency’s office in West Sumatra says water spread 600 metres inland on remote Sikakap Island in the Mentawai group.

Several people in the region are thought to be missing.

Mr Jenkins says several villages were hit.

“We have unconfirmed news that one child at least, and perhaps others have been washed away,” he said.

Residents reported shaking as far away as the West Sumatran provincial capital of Padang, but fears of widespread damage eased a few hours after the quake.

However Rick Hallett, an Australian who runs a boat charter business in Indonesia, says waves generated by the quake carried bystanders up to 200 metres inland.

DFAT says it has not received any reports to suggest Australians are injured.

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