A tsunami crashed into beach resorts and fishing villages on the Indonesian island of Java on Monday, killing at least 100 people, leaving scores more missing and sending thousands fleeing to higher ground, witnesses and officials said.
Regional agencies issued bulletins saying that a magnitude 7.7 earthquake that had struck beneath the Indian Ocean was strong enough to send a killer wave, 6ft high, hurtling toward Indonesia, the country worst hit by the 2004 tsunami.
But the alerts did not reach the victims because the densely populated island – which only seven weeks ago was rocked by a powerful earthquake that killed thousands – does not have a tsunami warning system.
The hardest-hit area appeared to be Pangandaran, an idyllic beach resort long popular with local and foreign tourists, where witnesses said people shouted “tsunami, tsunami,” and climbed trees or crowded inland mosques as the wave approached.
Indonesian Red Cross official Arifin Muhadi told The Associated Press that at least 69 people were killed, most in Pangandaran, and that 77 others were missing. Local officials later revised the estimated death toll to 86.
There were no immediately reports of foreign deaths, but at least one Swedish man was being treated for injuries at a local hospital and his two sons, ages 5 and 10, were missing, said Jan Janonius, Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesman.
The family was vacationing at Pangandaran when the wave struck, he said, refusing to provide more details.
One witness told the Associated Press news agency that she had seen as many as 20 corpses at one local clinic in Pangandaran. Further deaths were reported in harbours and coves up to 100km (60 miles) up the coast.
Rescue teams have been joined by the Indonesian military in the effort to locate the missing, while residents from the affected area have been advised by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to evacuate.
“Waves suddenly came and we ran to the hills. Four people from my group are still missing,” said a woman who gave her name as Teti, and who said she had been accompanying Dutch tourists when the waves hit.
“Many small hotels were destroyed,” she told local ElShinta radio. “Hotels on the beach front of Pangandaran… the front parts are hit. Boats have been thrown into hotels.”
The tidal wave was caused by a huge, 7.2 magnitude eathquake which struck more than 40 kilometres under the seabed off the southern coast of the island in mid-afternoon. Java lies on the notoriously active “Pacific Ring of Fire” zone where continental plates meet and seismic activity is especially regular and fierce.
Indonesia is still reeling from an earthquake that hit Yogyakarta earlier this year, claiming 5,300 lives. The initial tremor yesterday, which rattled buildings 270km away in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, was followed by at least five powerful aftershocks.
Source: The Times (UK)