More than 300 died in Java Tsunami

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The Independent Online

Tearful parents searched today for missing children and soldiers dug through the debris of homes flattened by the second tsunami to hit Indonesia in as many years. At least 327 people were killed, officials said, with another 160 or more missing.

Bodies covered in white sheets piled up at makeshift morgues - with the corpse of at least one woman lying on a beach popular with local and foreign tourists.

"I don't mind losing any of my property, but please God return my son," said Basril, a villager, as he and his wife searched though mounds of debris piled up at Pangandaran resort on Java island's southern coast.

The area hit by yesterday's disaster was spared by the devastating 2004 Asian tsunami, and many residents said they did not even feel the 7.7-magnitude undersea quake that unleashed the six-foot wall of water.

But some recognised the danger when they saw the sea recede and fled to higher ground, screaming "Tsunami! Tsunami!" A black wave shot to shore half an hour later, witnesses said, sending boats, cars and motorbikes crashing into resorts and fishing villages. The water reached 300 yards inland.

The death toll rose to at least 327, officials said, with the numbers expected to grow.

"We are still finding many bodies, many are stuck in the ruins of the houses," said local police chief Syamsuddin Janieb, who said at least 172 people were killed and 85 others were missing in the Panganderan area alone.

A Pakistani national, a Swedish national and a Dutch national were among the dead, he said, but did not give their genders. A French woman in hospital with injuries said her boyfriend was missing.

At least 23,000 people fled from their homes, either because they were destroyed or in fear of another tsunami, so accounting for the 160 missing could take time, other officials said.

Survivors, meanwhile, recounted their tales of horror.

"We saw a big wall of black water. I ran with my son in my arms and when I looked back, the waves were at our house, they destroyed our house," said Ita Anita, who was on the beach with her 11-month-old child and other relatives. "The water knocked me down, my son slipped out of my hands and was taken by the water."

Pedi Mulyadi, a 43-year-old food seller, said he was waiting on the beach for customers when the wave struck, killing his wife, Ratini, 33. The pair were clinging to one another when they were swallowed by the torrent of water and pulled 30 yards inland, he said.

"Then we were hit, I think by a piece of wood," Mulyadi said. "When the water finally pulled away, she was dead. Oh my God, my wife is gone, just like that."

Roads were blocked and power cut to much of the area.

Indonesia was hardest hit by a 2004 tsunami that killed at least 216,000 people in a dozen nations along the Indian Ocean rim - more than a half of them on Sumatra island's Aceh province.

Though the country started to install an early warning system after that disaster, it is still in the early stages, covering only Sumatra. The government had been planning to extend the warning system to Java by 2007.

The island was hit seven weeks ago by a 5.9-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 5,800 people, though the 110 miles of coastline hit by yesterday's tsunami was not affected by that quake.

Yesterday's quake struck at 3.24p. local time about 150 miles beneath the ocean floor, causing tall buildings to sway hundreds of miles away in the capital, Jakarta. The region has been rattled by a series of strong aftershocks.

After the quake, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre and Japan's Meteorological Agency issued warnings of a possible tsunami in the Indian Ocean. The tsunami struck Java about an hour later and its effects could be felt as far as Bali island and near Australia's Coco Islands.

In addition to the 172 deaths in Panganderan, central Java police chief Dody Sumantiawan said at least 77 people were killed and more than 70 others missing in nearby Cilacap district.

Lina, a district official who goes by only one name, said 44 bodies were found in Tasikmalaya and local authorities said at least 13 people were killed in other areas along the coast.

Indonesia is on the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.

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