Rescuers search for survivors as Indonesia tsunami death toll tops 370

  • Military and police are searching the ruins for survivors and victims after deadly wave smashed into coastlines on southern Sumatra and west Java
PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 December, 2018, 11:31am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 December, 2018, 10:49am

Indonesian rescuers battled heavy rain on Monday in a desperate search for survivors after a tsunami believed to have been triggered by a volcanic eruption killed at least 373 people.

The national disaster agency said casualty figures could rise as it issued the fresh death toll – up from a previous 222 – adding that 128 people were still missing.

An estimated 1,459 were injured in the disaster on Saturday evening, the agency added.

“The number of victims and damage will continue to rise,” said disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

Rescue teams used diggers and other heavy equipment to move debris from the stricken area around the Sunda Strait as thousands were evacuated from the affected region.

“The military and police are searching the ruins to see if we can find more victims,” said Dody Ruswandi, a senior official at the disaster agency, adding that the rescue effort was likely to last a week.

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Hundreds of buildings were destroyed by the wave, which hit the coast of southern Sumatra and the western tip of Java at about 9:30pm on Saturday after a volcano known as the “child” of the legendary Krakatoa erupted.

In devastated Sukarame village, Sunarti waded through knee-deep water as she searched for belongings outside her destroyed house and waited for aid to arrive.

“There’s been no help at all so far,” the 61-year-told said. “Some people are starving.”

‘Child of Krakatoa’, the lava bomb-hurling volcano that triggered Indonesia’s latest deadly tsunami

Indonesian president Joko Widodo visited the area on Monday, as efforts were stepped up to collect the dead and save the injured. Scientists have also been collecting evidence on how a volcanic eruption triggered the tragedy, which took place less than three months after a quake-tsunami killed thousands of people around the city of Palu on Sulawesi island.

The vast archipelago nation is one of the most disaster-prone nations on Earth due to its position straddling the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tectonic plates collide.

Experts have said Saturday’s tsunami could have been caused by an underwater collapse of part of the volcano.

Anak Krakatoa, which forms a small island in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra, emerged around 1928 in the crater left by Krakatoa, which erupted in 1883, killing at least 36,000 people and affected global weather patterns for years.

“The likelihood of further tsunami in the Sunda Strait will remain high while Anak Krakatoa volcano is going through its current active phase because that might trigger further submarine landslides,” said Richard Teeuw of the University of Portsmouth in England.

Unlike those caused by earthquakes, which trigger alert systems, these tsunami give authorities very little time to warn residents of the impending threat.

Another tsunami could hit Indonesia, experts warn

“It happened very quickly,” said survivor Ade Junaedi. “I was chatting with a guest at our place when my wife opened the door and she suddenly screamed in panic. I thought there was a fire, but when I walked to the door I saw the water coming.”

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the “powerful waves” reached a height of 90 centimetres (3 feet) in some places.

Oxfam and other international aid agencies said they would help in the aftermath, as local rescuers evacuated the injured and set up tarpaulins to provide shelter.

“It’s already raining heavily and the winds are strong so we’ve only got a short time frame to evacuate people and clean up,” said Indonesia’s public works minister Basuki Hadimuljono.

Additional reporting by agencies