Tsunami kills at least 168 in Indonesia, nearly 600 injured
JAKARTA (REUTERS, AFP) - A tsunami following a volcanic eruption in Indonesia has killed 168 people, with hundreds more injured, officials said Sunday (Dec 23).
National disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said 745 people were injured and 30 were missing.
"This number will continue to rise considering not all places have been checked," Dr Sutopo told a media briefing in Yogyakarta.
The tsunami was caused by "an undersea landslide resulting from volcanic activity on Anak Krakatau" and was exacerbated by an abnormally high tide because of the current full moon, he said.
"The tsunami hit several areas of the Sunda Strait, including beaches in Pandeglang regency, Serang, and South Lampung," the agency said.
Video footage posted to social media by Dr Supoto showed panicked residents clutching flashlights and fleeing for higher ground.
The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said the tsunami was detected at four locations in the provinces of Banten and Lampung at 9.27pm local time.
The highest of the waves was a 90cm tsunami recorded at Jambu Beach in Banten. Another 350cm wave hit Ciwandan seaport in Banten, while two other 360cm waves struck Kota Agung and Panjang seaport in Lampung.
Mr Rahmat Triyono, the head of the BMKG's earthquake and tsunami department, said in a brief press conference that more tsunamis were possible "as long as there is increased activity of the Anak Krakatau volcano".
"If there is increased activity, then we have to raise the alert," he said, adding that the agency was awaiting an assessment from Indonesia's Geological Agency.
He said the authorities were initially unsure whether the waves were caused by a tsunami, as there had not been an earthquake. Saturday's tsunami was different from an earthquake-spawned tsunami, which is usually followed by aftershocks of a lower magnitude. Hence, the chances of a follow-up tsunami are low.
"Saturday's tsunami was triggered by eruptions. Volcano eruptions can be small in the beginning and big later on," he said.
Mr Rudi Suhendar, the head of Indonesia's Geological Agency, however, said he still could not rule out that weather, rather than an eruption, had caused the tidal surge, as the volcano had been active since the end of June and the amplitude of Saturday's eruption was not the biggest.
Dr Sutopo told Metro TV that tsunamis triggered by volcanic eruptions were "rare" and that the Sunda Strait tsunami had not resulted from an earthquake.
"There was no earthquake, and the Anak Krakatau eruption also wasn't that big," he told Metro TV, noting there were no "significant" seismic tremors to indicate a tsunami was coming.
BMKG chief Dwikorita Karnawati told an Elshinta radio interview the agency is still investigating the cause of the tsunami and warned residents and tourists in coastal areas around the Sunda Strait to stay away from beaches until Tuesday (Dec 25). Residents and hotels in those areas have also been told to refrain from holding beach activities.
SUDDEN SURGE OF WATER
TV footage showed roads blocked by debris from damaged houses, overturned cars and fallen trees. Hundreds of buildings were destroyed by the waves, while nine hotels and 10 vessels were heavily damaged.
Still, the tsunami was not as devastating as feared. Indonesia's armed forces chief Hadi Tjahjanto, who took an aerial view of the affected areas, said he could see fallen trees only as far as 200m to 250m from the beach both in Banten and Lampung province.
"Roads are mostly accessible, no bridge is collapsed," Marshal Hadi told a brief media briefing broadcast live on national TV.
So far, the western coast of Banten province in Java was the worst-hit, said Dr Sutopo said earlier.
Mr Endan Permana, head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency in Pandeglang regency in Banten, told Metro TV police were providing immediate assistance to victims in Tanjung Lesung in Banten, a popular tourist getaway not far from Jakarta, as emergency workers had not arrived in the area yet. "Many are missing," he said.
Over at Carita beach, a popular day-tripping spot on the west coast of Java, 15-year-old Muhammad Bintang said he saw a sudden surge of water that plunged the tourist spot into darkness.
"We arrived at 9pm for our holiday and suddenly the water came – it went dark, the electricity is off," he told AFP. "It's messy outside and we still cannot access the road."
MetroTV reported that a live band concert was taking place at a beach in Banten when the tsunami hit on Saturday night. Concertgoers fell victim, as they were pulled by high waves. Footage showed the stage collapsing.
At least seven people were reported dead in Lampung in southern Sumatra.
Lieutenant Colonel Mohamad Syarhan, South Lampung police chief, told MetroTV that holiday-makers were among the victims, but there had not been reports of any foreign tourists. "We have had reports of residents not being able to contact their loved ones," he said.
The local police have deployed 200 personnel to the affected areas.
Rescue workers and ambulances were finding it difficult to reach affected areas because some roads were blocked by debris, said Ketut Sukerta, head of the disaster agency in South Lampung.
Lt-Col Mohamad said excavators are needed to move collapsed building materials and fallen trees that were blocking the roads.
"We did manage to clear some blocked roads by hand tools," he said. "The coastal residents here have their houses, made of wooden materials, as close as 15m from the beach. Many were hard hit by the high tides last night (Saturday night)."
Although relatively rare, submarine volcanic eruptions can cause tsunamis due to the sudden displacement of water or slope failure, according to the International Tsunami Information Centre.
Professor Ben van der Pluijm, an earthquake geologist from the University of Michigan, said the tsunami may have been caused by a "partial collapse" of Anak Krakatau.
"Instability of the slope of an active volcano can create a rock slide that moves a large volume of water, creating local tsunami waves that can be very powerful. This is like suddenly dropping a bag of sand in a tub filled with water," he said.
Coastal residents reported not seeing or feeling any warning signs, like receding water or an earthquake, before waves of up to two meters washed ashore, according to media.
Anak Krakatau, known as the "child" of the legendary Krakatoa, is a small volcanic island that emerged from the ocean half a century after Krakatoa's deadly 1883 eruption.
When Krakatoa erupted in the 19th century, a jet of ash, stones and smoke shot more than 20km into the sky, plunging the region into darkness, and sparking a huge tsunami that was felt around the world. The disaster killed more than 36,000 people.
Indonesia, one of the most disaster-prone nations on earth, straddles the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire", where tectonic plates collide and a large portion of the world's volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur. Anak Krakatau is one of 127 active volcanoes which run the length of the archipelago.
Most recently, in the city of Palu on Sulawesi island, a quake and tsunami killed thousands of people.
In 2004, a tsunami triggered by a magnitude 9.3 undersea earthquake off the coast of Sumatra in western Indonesia killed 220,000 people in countries around the Indian Ocean, including 168,000 in Indonesia.
The tsunami was the latest in a series of tragedies that have struck Indonesia, a vast archipelago, this year.
Successive earthquakes flattened parts of the tourist island of Lombok, and a double quake-and-tsunami killed thousands on Sulawesi island.
Nearly 200 people died when a Lion Air passenger plane crashed into the Java Sea in October.
Additional reporting by Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja