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Indonesian village vanishes in wake of tsunami

By Paula Hancocks, CNN
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Tsunami kills 30 in one village
  • Villagers fled to village church, but it wasn't far enough
  • 30 die in the remote village of Monai
  • Most survivors are still hiding in the hills

Monai, Indonesia (CNN) -- Saluhu stares at the mass grave where his youngest son is buried. He struggles to comprehend the split second that changed his life forever.

He relives the moment he started to run inland with his family after feeling Monday's earthquake and hearing the distant roar of the tsunami.

"My youngest son's hand slipped out of my wife's hand when the tsunami hit us. It just slipped," Saluhu says. "We didn't know where he was. We couldn't see a thing -- it was pitch black."

Nine-year-old Warisman is one of 30 victims in the village of Monai on the Indonesian island of South Pagai, one of the areas worst hit by the tsunami.

Video: Indonesia quake explained
  • Indonesia

Most of those who died had run into the village church, around 350 meters inland, thinking it was far enough. It wasn't. All that remains of the church are the foundations and small pieces of concrete and steel, ripped apart as if it were paper.

The villagers tell us the tsunami hit approximately six minutes after they first felt the earthquake. For some it simply wasn't enough time to flee to higher ground.

It's hard to overstate how remote these Indonesian islands are. Aid agencies are struggling to reach them, and harsh weather and torrential rain kept one aid ship out at sea for 16 hours before it was safe to dock near the devastated area.

The Monai villagers say an aid helicopter dropped rice and water to them Thursday, but a CNN crew was the first to actually land there. Their food is almost completely gone.

There is no shelter from the harsh storms, and the majority of the survivors are still hiding in the hills -- too scared to return to their destroyed village at sea level.