July 17, 2006

Indonesia tsunami toll 231, hunt on for more

By Heru Asprihanto

PANGANDARAN, Indonesia (Reuters) - At least 230 people were
killed after a tsunami smashed into fishing villages and
resorts on Indonesia's Java island, following a strong undersea
earthquake, rescue officials said on Tuesday.

No warnings were reported despite efforts around the region
to establish early warning systems after the 2004 Indian Ocean
tsunami that killed 230,000 people, including 170,000 in

But many residents and tourists recognized the signs and
fled to higher ground as the sea receded before huge waves came
crashing ashore.

Officials said 231 people were confirmed dead and nearly
130 people were missing after Monday's huge waves crashed into
Java's southern coast, washing away buildings, wooden cottages
and kiosks lining the shoreline facing the Indian Ocean.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the death toll was expected
to climb.

"In a tsunami, it is possible that the number (of dead)
will increase, especially those who are missing or who have
been washed away to sea," he told Elshinta radio.

Kalla said the government's priority was to provide
healthcare, food and shelter and then move to evaluating the
damage and reconstruction of houses.

Soldiers were trying to retrieve bodies trapped under a
collapsed concrete wall.

Metro TV reported several bodies were found in trees along
Pangandaran beach near the town of Ciamis, 270 km (170 miles)
southeast of Jakarta.

A regional government official in the most hard-hit area
said that deaths there totaled 171, while the Indonesian Red
Cross said the dead in other areas totaled 60.

There were no reports of casualties or damage in any other
country from Monday's tsunami.


Pangandaran, the area that bore the brunt of the tsunami,
is a popular tourist spot with many small hotels on the beach.
It is close to a nature reserve.

"Yesterday I was on the eastern beach, people were running
and so was I ... I saw how the water rose. It was about 7 to 10
metres," Rizal, a survivor told Elshinta radio as he picked
through the debris of his home.

Anxious survivors lifted sheets covering dozens of bodies
lining a hospital floor as they searched for relatives missing
after the waves battered their homes, leaving the area strewn
with bamboo poles, fallen trees and collapsed straw huts.

TV footage showed a man flinging himself down onto the
corpse of a small child, her body streaked with mud, alongside
lines of bodies under plastic sheets in a makeshift morgue.

"The search for victims is still going on. We will search
for bodies and possible survivors," Diding, an official from
the worst-hit area, Pangandaran, told Reuters.

"This morning the TNI (military) troops and other
volunteers have arrived."

Dozens of people fled in the dark on motorcycles and cars
with horns blaring and headlights flashing early on Tuesday as
rumors swirled of another tsunami, but government officials
assured them there was no reason to panic.

A distraught woman was wailing and throwing her hands in
the air in a rubber plantation office in the port of Cilacap.
Beside her, more than 100 people huddled beside rows of
sleeping children covered with batik sheets.

Many people returned to salvage belongings such as boat
engines and clothes from the wreckage of their homes after the
tsunami destroyed fishing boats and damaged cafes, motels and
restaurants up to 500 metres from the coastline.

The U.S.-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the
earthquake's magnitude was 7.2, while the U.S. Geological
Survey put it at 7.7. Indonesia's state meteorology and
geophysics agency said the quake's strength was 6.8 on the
Richter Scale.

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."

Earthquakes are frequent in Indonesia. In May, an
earthquake near the city of Yogyakarta in central Java killed
more than 5,700.

(Additional reporting by Telly Nathalia in Jakarta)