July 19, 2006
At least 550 people are now thought to have died after a tsunami hit the Indonesian island of Java on Monday afternoon. An earthquake, which measured 7.7 on the Richter scale, triggered the two-metre-high tidal wave.
As rescuers continue to pull dead bodies from destroyed beaches, homes and hotels, Indonesia’s government has been criticised for failing to inform residents that a tsunami was imminent.
After the underwater earthquake erupted, Japanese and US agencies issued tsunami alerts for parts of Indonesia and Australia, but the Indonesian government has admitted it was unable to pass warnings on to coastal areas like the small town of Pangandaran which was worst-hit. “Our system is not yet working properly. We are still developing a communication system especially for the regions,” said Fauzi, a government scientist.
In the wake of the 2004 Asian tsunami, which killed more than 130,000 people in the western province of Aceh, a warning system is being implemented there. However, Java has always been perceived as having a low tsunami threat, but Indonesia’s Vice President Jusuf Kalia said today that an early warning system will be installed on the island within three years.
Officials have said that almost all of the victims were Indonesians, but a Pakistani, a Swede and a Dutch citizen were among those who perished.
It is thought that 275 people are still missing. The army and police are searching affected areas with sniffer dogs and mechanical diggers in the hope of finding survivors. “We are looking for people who are still missing or buried under the rubble as well as clearing the debris," said Deden Rajab, an army officer.
Parents are also searching ferociously for their missing children. “The water was too strong,” said Irah as she dug through a pile of rubble with her hands in the hope of recovering her 6-year-old son. “Oh God. Eki, where are you?”
More than 50,000 people have been left homeless as a result of the devastating wave, and aftershocks are making worried residents flee to higher ground.
“People suddenly started running so I joined them,” 42 year-old Marino told the Associated Press.
Others have taken refuge in the hills since the disaster happened. “I am too scared to go down,” one elderly woman told the AFP news agency.
Earlier today, another earthquake caused buildings to shake in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, but there were no reports of injuries. Officials at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said no new tsunami is expected.
Yesterday, survivors described the tsunami.
A Belgian tourist said he was in a beachside bar when the wave struck. "I saw this big cloud of dark sea water coming up to me," he said.
"When the waves came, I heard people screaming and then I heard something like a plane about to crash nearby, and I just ran," Uli Sutarli, a plantation worker who was on Pangandaran beach, told Reuters.
Indonesia is situated on the Pacific Rim of Fire where 90% of the world's earthquakes and 81% of the world's largest earthquakes occur.
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