July 19, 2006

Fear sparks scramble as Java tsunami toll at 550

By Ed Davies

PANGANDARAN, Indonesia (Reuters) - An aftershock in
Indonesia's tsunami-ravaged region sent hundreds scrambling for
high ground on Wednesday as the toll from Monday's disaster
climbed to 550.

Rescuers pulled bodies from the debris and aid trickled
into worst-hit Pangandaran town while a search continued for
about 275 people still missing after the tsunami smashed into a
300-km (185 mile) stretch of coast along southern Java.

A light aftershock that shook Pangandaran beach sent some
people running, while others headed inland on motorcycles and
cars as rumors circulated of a fresh tsunami.

Indonesian media questioned why there was no warning ahead
of Monday's killer waves despite regional efforts to set up
early alert systems after the massive Indian Ocean tsunami of

The Jakarta Post said in an editorial the disaster agency
had done "nothing of note to increase people's preparedness for

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla told reporters the
government would build an early warning system in Java and
other areas in Indonesia in three years.

Along the coastline, heavy equipment was deployed to help
in the search for bodies left under the rubble when the waves
rolled in after a 7.7-magnitude undersea earthquake.


Five bodies were found on beaches in the Pangandaran area
alone early on Wednesday, Red Cross official Mehmet Selamat

"There are many fishermen missing." he told Reuters.

Search and rescue official Hadi Tugiman said he expected
the search effort to continue until at least the weekend.

Government officials said as many as 54,000 people were
displaced from wrecked fishing villages, farms and beach
resorts, adding to the rehabilitation headache for authorities
after an earthquake that killed more than 5,700 people in
central Java less than two months earlier.

Trucks started to arrive with aid for the thousands who
lost their homes or who, fearing further tsunamis, had fled to
hills above the coast.

More than a dozen corpses in yellow body bags lay in a
makeshift morgue near the devastated Pangandaran beach, a
popular tourist spot known for its black-sand shore and
barbecue seafood.

A man wailed as he held the arm of a dead woman.

At the end of a cemetery on the shoreline, soldiers
operated two bulldozers to create a mass grave for 30 bodies,
while a crowd gathered to watch.

Officials said four foreigners, including a Dutch national,
a Swede, a Japanese and a Belgian, were known killed in the

"I saw a house coming toward me, but I couldn't run. It
stopped 20 meters from me," Anne-Marie Kingmans, a Dutch
tourist who survived, told Reuters.

"We heard no warning. People just came running," she said,
adding that the waves washed a boat into the lobby of her

More than 4,000 people were staying in refugee camps in the
hills above Pangandaran, Red Cross official Waar Soewardi said.

Others found refuge under homemade shelters or stayed
inside mosques at Pangandaran and nearby Cilacap port, among
the hardest-hit spots.

At one site, eight large military tents were crowded with
displaced people who were being given two meals a day. Food and
water appeared to be in ample supply.

Protective vaccinations are a high priority and local
health workers have been swift in getting them underway, a
World Health Organization official said, adding the global body
has also been training them on how to deal with traumatized


Soft-drink and snack seller Mukasih, 25, said the tsunami
destroyed both her kiosk and her home.

Mukasih suffered cuts and lacerations as the waves flung
her and one of her children against a wall. She later found her
husband and other child sheltering in a mosque.

Asked what her plans were, she said: "I don't know. I'm
still thinking, but I don't want a shop on the beach again."

No tsunami warning system was set up for the southern coast
of Java after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that left 230,000
killed or missing, including 170,000 in Indonesia.

Some officials considered the area, about 270 km (170
miles) southeast of Jakarta, less likely to be hit by a tsunami
than others in Indonesia.

"It turned out that our prediction was wrong," the Jakarta
Post quoted Surono, a senior official of the country's
earthquake agency, as saying. "Now, we believe that there are
no tsunami-free areas along the southern coast of Java."

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."

(Additional reporting by Diyan Jari and Achmad Sukarsono)