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Death toll from tsunami, volcano rises to more than 300

MENTAWAI ISLANDS, Indonesia - The death toll from a tsunami and a volcano rose to more than 300 yesterday as more victims of Indonesia's double disasters were found and an official said a warning system installed after a deadly ocean wave in 2004 had broken from a lack of maintenance.

Hundreds were still missing after Monday's tsunami struck the remote Mentawai islands off western Sumatra, where officials were only beginning to chart the scope of the devastation. At least 311 people died as the huge wave, triggered by an undersea earthquake, washed away wooden and bamboo homes, displacing more than 20,000 people.

About 800 miles to the east in central Java, the Mount Merapi volcano was mostly quiet but still a threat after Tuesday's eruption that sent searing ash clouds into the air, killing at least 30 people and injuring 17. Among the dead was a revered elder who had refused to leave his ceremonial post as caretaker of the mountain's spirits.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono rushed home from a state visit to Vietnam to deal with the catastrophes, which struck within 24 hours along different points of the Pacific "Ring of Fire," a series of fault lines prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity.

The first cargo plane loaded with tents, medicine, food and clothes landed yesterday in the tsunami-hit area, said disaster official Ade Edward.

Huge swathes of land were underwater and homes were torn apart by the 10-foot wave that hit Pagai Utara island in the Indian Ocean south of Sumatra.

The islands lie close to the epicenter of the 7.7-magnitude quake that struck late Monday beneath the ocean floor. The fault line on Sumatra island's coast is the same one that caused the 2004 quake and tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries around the Indian Ocean.

After that monster wave, many countries set up early warning systems in their waters hoping to give people time to flee to higher ground before a tsunami crashed ashore.

Indonesia's version, completed in 2008, has since fallen into such disrepair that it effectively stopped working about a month ago, according to the head of the Meteorology and Geophysic Agency.

The entire system was broken because of inexperienced operators, said the agency's chief, who uses the single name Fauzi. "We do not have the expertise to monitor the buoys to function as intended," he said.

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