Hundreds dead in Javanese tsunami

More than 300 people have been killed by a tsunami that smashed into the southern coast of Indonesia’s Java island following an undersea earthquake. Officials said on Tuesday that about 150 people were also missing after Monday’s huge waves crashed into the coast, washing away buildings, wooden cottages and kiosks lining the shoreline facing the Indian Ocean.

The official added that 20 tonnes of medical supplies and food had been sent to the affected areas from the capital, Jakarta.

Rescue workers have warned they fear many more people may be buried under the rubble left in the wake of the tsunami, which landed on Monday afternoon after an undersea earthquake hit off the coast of densely populated Java.

At least 304 people were killed and 430 injured across six districts along the south coast of Central and West Java provinces, the health ministry said.

About 150 were still missing while 52 700 had been displaced by the surges of water, said the head of the ministry’s crisis centre, Rustam Pakaya.

Indonesia was the nation hardest hit by the devastating December 26 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami catastrophe, which killed about 220 000 people across the region—and 168 000 in Aceh alone.

The latest natural disaster follows a quake that hit nearby Yogyakarta and Central Java on May 27, killing about 5 800 people.

Most Indonesian schools reopened on Monday after a four-week holiday. One Pangandaran resident said the toll would have been much higher if the earthquake had happened 24 hours earlier when the beach was full of holidaymakers.

Pangandaran lies on a small peninsula on the Indian Ocean.
While the tsunami surged ashore on both the west and east beaches, the damage was worse on the east beach because there were fewer concrete hotels to absorb the force of the waves. Thousands of residents on Java’s south coast fled to higher ground.

“We felt the earthquake very strongly at about 3.20pm,” Miswan, whose house was 50m from the coast, told the Elshinta radio station. “Then about half an hour later I saw in the distance out to sea very big waves coming towards the shore. That’s when we turned and fled as fast as we could.”

Another witness, Kirsten, told SCTV television: “Many houses crashed to the ground straightaway. The electricity went off immediately and we ran to higher ground as fast as we could. The water was still waist-deep 500m inland.”

Heff Martin, a 26-year-old Swiss office worker, said he and his fiancée had only moments to “think with clear heads and use common sense” to save their lives.

“There were people screaming outside the hotel, so one of the hotel staff went outside to see what was happening. He came back screaming, ‘There is a wave, there is a wave. The sea is coming, the sea is coming!’” Martin recalled.

“We quickly ran to the second floor and soon the waves came in and crashed into the first floor ... We were there for about five minutes, and we went up to the rooftop by breaking through the ceiling.”

A 26-year-old Frenchwoman was among the dead, a diplomatic source said, while Metro TV reported that six foreign nationals were among the injured, including two Dutch and four Japanese.

Two Swedish children aged between five and 10 years old reported missing on Monday were yet to be located, another diplomatic source said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered the evacuation of everyone in areas along the south-west coast considered at risk of further tsunamis.

The epicentre of the 7,7-magnitude quake was about 249km off the south-west coast of Java. It was followed by five big aftershocks of magnitude 6,1 and many smaller ones. The tremors shook buildings in Jakarta, 1 240km away.—AFP, Guardian Unlimited Â

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