An earthquake off Indonesia generated a two-metre high tsunami that has killed at least 300 people at a beach resort on the Indian Ocean coast.
A further 160 people are reported missing and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia said a search was continuing for people believed to have been swept away.
Yesterday's earthquake, rated at between 7.2 and 7.7 on the Richter scale, provoked an alert by the Pacific tsunami warning centre in Hawaii, which said that waves could hit Indonesia's Java and Sumatra islands, as well as Christmas and the Cocos islands, which belong to Australia.
Several hours after the quake, which made tall buildings sway in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, western Java was the only region to report casualties. In the resort of Pangandaran, dozens of people died and the tsunami destroyed wooden cottages, small hotels and restaurants along the beach. Thousands of people managed to flee to higher ground or climbed trees.
"We were in panic and running," one villager told local television. "Almost an entire village was inundated by water. All people were running to the mountain." Another woman, Teti, told local radio: "All the houses are destroyed along the beach."
A police spokesman said he had seen six corpses and believed many more were buried under rubble. "Everything looks a mess," he said. " Only permanent buildings are still standing."
There were no immediate reports of foreign deaths, but at least one Swedish man was being treated at a hospital. His two sons, aged five and 10, were missing.
The events triggered fears of widespread casualties, following the tsunami on Boxing Day 2004 that claimed more than 220,000 lives in 11 countries.
Yesterday's quake struck at 3.24pm local time, with the epicentre more than 40km under the ocean bed. It was followed by strong aftershocks. In Pangandran, a popular resort near a nature reserve, roads were blocked and telephone and power supplies cut, hampering rescue efforts. The island does not have a tsunami-warning system. The waves reached several hundreds of metres inland.
One witness said he had seen the water withdraw 500 metres from the beach front half an hour before the giant wave smashed to shore. "I could see fish jumping around on the ocean floor," Miswan said. "Later, I saw a wave like a black wall."
It was not immediately clear whether other areas were struck. Officials in the Cocos said they believed the islands had escaped unscathed. Indonesia's Transport Minister, Hatta Radjasa, said there were reports that two seaside towns had been hit.
In May, a 5.9 magnitude earthquake hit central Java, flattening villages and killing nearly 5,800 people. The country is located in an area of geological fault lines around the Pacific known as the Ring of Fire.Reuse content