Indonesia tsunami death toll rises above 370 as authorities fear second wave

Number of casualties expected to rise with dozens still missing and hundreds injured

Tom Embury-Dennis
Tuesday 25 December 2018 02:00
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Indonesia Tsunami: rescuers continue search as death toll rises

The death toll from a tsunami in Indonesia has risen to 373, the country’s disaster agency has said, with another 128 missing and almost 1,500 people injured.

The waves washed ashore along western Java and southern Sumatra islands on Saturday night following a volcanic eruption.

Hundreds of military personnel and volunteers were combing debris-strewn beaches on Monday looking for victims.

The tsunami was not huge and did not surge far inland, but its force was destructive.

Disaster agency spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said more than 600 homes, many hotels and vendor stalls, and more than 400 boats and ships were damaged. The number of casualties may still rise.

Mr Nugroho said: “It is suspected that some victims are still trapped under wreckage and materials washed away by the tsunami.”

He also told a news conference another tsunami was a possibility because of the continued eruptions of the volcano, according to the BBC.

“Recommendations from Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysical Agency (BMKG) are that people should not carry out activities on the beach and stay away from the coast for a while,” he said.

Where victims were found, yellow, orange and black body bags were laid out, and weeping relatives identified the dead.

The waves that swept terrified locals and tourists into the sea along the Sunda Strait followed an eruption and apparent landslide on Anak Krakatau, or “Child of Krakatoa”, one of the world’s most infamous volcanic islands.

Hotels and hundreds of homes were heavily damaged by the waves. Broken chunks of concrete and splintered sticks of wood littered hard-hit coastal areas, turning popular beach areas into near ghost towns. Debris from thatch-bamboo shacks was strewn along the coast.

The Indonesian Medical Association of the worst-affected Banten region said that it sent doctors, medical supplies and equipment, and that many of the injured were in need of orthopaedic and neurological surgery. It said most victims are domestic tourists who were visiting beaches during the long weekend ahead of Christmas.

It was the second deadly tsunami to hit seismically active Indonesia this year. A powerful earthquake triggered a tsunami that hit Sulawesi island in September, giving residents a brief warning before the waves struck.

On Saturday night, however, the ground did not shake to alert people before the waves ripped buildings from their foundations and swept terrified concertgoers celebrating on a resort beach into the sea.

“I heard people shouting to run away and I saw the water had gone up to the mainland and the hotel had been flooded by water,” said witness Feri Ardian. “About 200 people were dragged away by the waves.”

Dramatic video posted on social media showed the Indonesian pop band Seventeen performing in a tent on Tanjung Lesung beach at a concert for employees of the state electricity company. A wave smashed through the makeshift stage, tossing the band and its equipment into the audience.

The bass player, guitarist, drummer, road manager and technician were all killed. The lead singer survived, but his wife, a backing singer, was missing. On Monday, five more bodies were recovered around the hotel, including a little boy.

President Joko Widodo, who faces what promises to be a tough re-election campaign next year, responded to the lack of any warning of the disaster with a vow to have all equipment used for detection of tsunamis replaced or repaired.

Mr Nugroho acknowledged on Twitter the country’s network of detection buoys had been dysfunctional since 2012 due to vandalism and budget shortfalls.

Indonesia Tsunami: Volcano erupting

But the head of the BMKG Dwikorita Karnawati said on Monday the tsunami was caused by Krakatau’s volcanic activity, so could not have been picked up by her agency’s sensors, which monitor the conventional tectonic earthquakes that are responsible for more than 90 per cent of the tsunamis occurring in the country.

With Krakatau still erupting, she warned people to avoid activities around coastal areas in coming days due to high waves and other factors.

The president – popularly known by the nickname Jokowi – told journalists after arriving by helicopter in the disaster region that he has ordered the Social Ministry to give compensation to the families of the dead as quickly as possible. He praised the army and police, along with local government officials, for their work in evacuating shorefront areas, which are still considered a danger zone.

Scientists, including those from the BMKG, said the tsunami could have been caused by landslides – either above ground or under water – on the steep slope of the erupting volcano. The scientists also cited tidal waves caused by the full moon.

Gegar Prasetya, co-founder of the Tsunami Research Center Indonesia, said Saturday’s tsunami was likely caused by a flank collapse – when a big section of a volcano’s slope gives way. It’s possible for an eruption to trigger a landslide above ground or beneath the ocean, both capable of producing waves, he said.

The 305m-high Anak Krakatau lies on an island in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra islands, linking the Indian Ocean and the Java Sea. It has been erupting since June and did so again about 24 minutes before the tsunami, the geophysics agency said.

The volcanic island formed over years after the 1883 eruption of the Krakatoa volcano, one of the largest, most devastating in recorded history. That disaster killed more than 30,000 people, launched far-reaching tsunamis, and created so much ash that day was turned to night in the area and a global temperature drop was recorded.

Most of the island sank into a volcanic crater under the sea, and the area remained calm until the 1920s, when Anak Krakatau began to rise from the site. It continues to grow each year and erupts periodically.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago of more than 17,000 islands and home to 260 million people, lies along the Ring of Fire, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin. Roads and infrastructure are poor in many areas, making access difficult in the best of conditions.

A powerful quake on the island of Lombok killed 505 people in August. The tsunami and earthquake that hit Sulawesi in September killed more than 2,100, while thousands more are believed to still be buried in neighbourhoods swallowed by a quake phenomenon known as liquefaction.

Saturday’s tsunami also rekindled memories of the massive magnitude 9.1 earthquake that hit Indonesia on 26 December 2004. It spawned a giant tsunami off Sumatra island, killing more than 230,000 people in a dozen countries – the majority in Indonesia.

Additional reporting by agencies

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