July 17, 2006

Tsunami hits Indonesia’s Java, at least 5 dead

By Achmad Sukarsono

JAKARTA (Reuters) - A strong undersea earthquake struck off
the southern coast of Indonesia's Java island on Monday,
triggering a tsunami that swept away wooden buildings and
killed at least five people, officials said.

There were no reports of casualties or damage in any other

The search for victims was continuing, Indonesian President
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told a news conference, adding that
five people were known to have died.

"An earthquake has happened and then was followed by a
tsunami on the southern coast of Ciamis (regency)," he said.

"It has been reported to me that five people have been
declared dead and the search is still going on to find those
who probably have been swept away by the tsunami waves."

A tsunami warning for Java's southern coast and nearby
Christmas Island, to the south of the Indonesian archipelago,
was issued by the U.S.-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.
Police on Christmas Island, owned by Australia, said there was
no damage there.

India also issued a warning for the Andaman and Nicobar
islands, which were badly hit by the 2004 tsunami, but
officials said there was no real threat. The Maldives, a
low-lying chain of islands to the southwest of India, also
issued a warning.

A massive earthquake in December 2004 triggered a tsunami
that left 170,000 people killed or missing in Indonesia's Aceh
province. Tens of thousands more died elsewhere, the majority
in Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.

On Monday, a policeman at Pangandaran Beach near
Indonesia's Ciamis town, around 270 km (168 miles) southeast of
Jakarta, told Metro TV that six deaths had been recorded but
the toll could be much higher.

"Everything looks like a mess. Buildings on the southern
coast have been damaged. Only permanent buildings are still
standing," said the policeman, called Agus.

The area is a popular local tourist spot with many small
hotels on the beach and is close to a nature reserve.

The waves washed away wooden cottages and kiosks lining the
shoreline facing the Indian Ocean, witnesses told local media.

"I think there will be a lot of fatalities because probably
they are buried under rubble. The road to the scene is covered
by rubbish brought by the waves," the policeman added.


"We were in panic and running. Almost an entire village was
inundated by water. All people were running to the mountain," a
villager in the area told Metro TV.

A woman who said she was a witness had earlier told
Jakarta-based Radio Elshinta that waves came several hundred
metres inland at Pangandaran Beach.

Hendri Subakti, head seismologist at the West Java
earthquake center, told Reuters the waves were a maximum of 1.5
metres high.

Some people were still fleeing the coastal area hours later
as rumours spread that there could be another quake and

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center had said the quake,
which hit at 0819 GMT, was of 7.2 magnitude.

Indonesia's state meteorology and geophysics agency
initially rated the quake at 5.5 magnitude, but later changed
that to 6.8, and said there were two significant aftershocks.

An official at the country's main fixed line operator,
Telkom, said the phone system in the area was down.

Some occupants of high-rise Jakarta buildings felt the
quake, which had an epicentre more than 40 kilometres under the
Indian Ocean 180 km off Pangandaran beach, and fled their

Earthquakes are frequent in Indonesia, the world's fourth
most populous country. In May, an earthquake near the central
Java city of Yogyakarta killed more than 5,700 people.

Indonesia's 17,000 islands sprawl along a belt of intense
volcanic and seismic activity, part of what is called the
"Pacific Ring of Fire."

The Pertamina state oil company's 348,000 barrel-per-day
(bpd) Cilacap refinery was not affected by the quake and
tsunami, a Pertamina official said.

"The refinery is operating as usual. There were rising
waves, but now the water has receded," the official said.

(With additional reporting by Achmad Sukarsono and Diyan