Tsunami death toll hits 525

The death toll from a tsunami that hit the southern coast of Indonesia’s main island of Java on Monday has reached 525, according to the country’s national coordinating body for disaster management.

Rescue workers dug with bare hands on Wednesday in a grim search for more bodies after a second tsunami to strike Indonesia in as many years.

“From the data that we received at 12 o’clock [5am GMT], the death toll is at 525. We are waiting for more information for further updates,” Nurdina, an official at the body’s headquarters in Jakarta, told Reuters on Wednesday.

The 3m tsunami lashed the densely-populated south coast of Java island on Monday, sparking memories of the 2004 catastrophe that left 220 000 people dead across Asia, most of them in Indonesia’s Aceh province.

Soldiers in Pangandaran, a resort area that suffered some of the worst damage, lacked heavy equipment to move debris and resorted to digging through the wreckage with their bare hands.

“We are looking for people who are still missing or buried under the rubble as well as clearing the debris,” said army officer Deden Rajab, who led a group of 27 soldiers at work here.

Wasdi bin Umri, a spokesperson for Ciamis district, which includes the area, said however that enough heavy equipment for the relief work was being used.

“This includes equipment from the military and the provincial government,” he said.

Bodies which remained unidentified or unclaimed were to be buried in separate graves starting on Wednesday afternoon and would be photographed so that their families can identify them later, he said.

Rumours of a fresh tsunami in one area in Ciamis triggered panic Wednesday.

“There was a rising tide, but we can be sure that won’t be a new tsunami,” bin Umri said.
“People are still traumatised. That’s why they ran to higher ground in panic when they heard the rumours.”

Dozens of police, troops and civilians combed neighbourhoods along the coast to search for the missing.

Aid meanwhile trickled through as a haphazard relief operation took shape.

The United Nations’s World Food Programme (WFP) said that two trucks carrying 15 tonnes of noodles and high-energy biscuits had arrived in Pangandaran and begun unloading.

“We’re trying to reach around 20 000 people in the next week,” said spokesperson Barry Came, adding that a team of WFP staff were leaving on Wednesday for the area to “figure out exactly what to do”.

Relief coordinator Subur Dwiyano told the Detikcom online news agency that the local government had received food and cash aid.

“So far we have received 650-million rupiah ($71 000) in cash. The plan is to distribute the cash to relatives of dead victims,” he said. He did not say how much each family would receive.

He said 10 public kitchens had also been set up in Pangandaran.

One truck carrying a tonne of food supplies donated by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s wife arrived in the battered resort area.

Eight trucks filled mostly with mineral water also arrived in the district of Cilacap, where more than 100 lives were lost.

A district official Sugiono said three large military tents and two public kitchens had been set up while four rubber boats were deployed to help in the search for the missing.

“There’s still confusion about what to do. The main priority is to save lives,” he said.

In Kebumen district, authorities dispatched rice and noodles to safe shelters where refugees were too afraid to return to the coast.

“When people began to shout: ‘Tsunami, tsunami!’, all I could think of was to run for my life,” said Sudarmin, a 48-year-old coconut farmer from Ayeh, a small village in the district, who was at a shelter.

The Manila-based Asian Development Bank said it was ready to provide support to Indonesia Wednesday while Britain also offered assistance. - Reuters, AFP

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