Indonesia Searches For Tsunami Victims As Death Toll Hits 373

December 24, 2018 - 9:32 am
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TANJUNG LESUNG, Indonesia (AP) — Efforts to collect hundreds of bodies and save the injured were stepped up in Indonesia on Monday following the country's latest tsunami, as scientists collected evidence on how a volcanic eruption triggered the weekend tragedy.

Casualty figures from Saturday night's disaster continued to rise, with at least 373 people confirmed dead and more than 1,400 injured. The death toll was certain to rise further, with 128 people still missing from the affected areas along the coastlines of western Java and southern Sumatra islands, where hundreds of military personnel and volunteers were conducting their grim search along debris-strewn beaches.

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

The waves that swept 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.

Indonesia Tsunami
Nurul Hidayat/Bisnis Indonesia via AP

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 orthopedic 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-owned electricity company. A wave smashed through the makeshift stage, tossing the band and its equipment into the audience.

Seventeen's bass player, guitarist, drummer, road manager and technician were all killed. The lead singer, Riefian Fajarsyah, survived, but his wife, who was also a backup singer, remains missing.

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

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for Indonesia Disaster Mitigation Agency, acknowledged on Twitter that the country's network of detection buoys had been dysfunctional since 2012, due to vandalism and budget shortfalls.

But the head of Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, Dwikorita Karnawati, said Monday that 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 percent of Indonesia's tsunamis.

With Anak Krakatau still erupting, she warned people to avoid activities around coastal areas in the coming days.

The president 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 Indonesia's Meteorology and Geophysics agency, said the tsunami could have been caused by landslides — either above ground or underwater — on the steep slope of the erupting volcano. The scientists also cited tidal waves caused by the full moon.

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