July 17, 2006

Tsunami hits Indonesia’s Java, death toll nears 40

By Achmad Sukarsono

JAKARTA (Reuters) - A tsunami triggered by a strong
undersea earthquake off the southern coast of Java island swept
away buildings at an Indonesian beach resort on Monday and
killed nearly 40 people, an official and media reports said.

The news spread panic across a region still recovering from
a tsunami less than two years ago that left nearly 230,000
people killed or missing, mostly in Indonesia. But there were
no reports of casualties or damage in any other country from
Monday's tsunami.

Waves up to 1.5 metres (five feet) high crashed into
Pangandaran Beach near Indonesia's Ciamis town, around 270 km
(170 miles) southeast of Jakarta, and a local official said 37
people had been killed. The toll could rise, he said.

"We have evacuated 37 dead bodies. The number could grow
because when we went to the shore, rescuers were trying to
evacuate more bodies," Rudi Supriatna Bahro told Metro TV.

The Ciamis councilman said areas up to half a kilometre
(550 yards) from the beach were affected, with flimsily
constructed buildings flattened.

"We need tents, food and medical aid for the displaced."

Robert Simatupang of the Indonesian Red Cross disaster
crisis center in Jakarta said it had sent rescuers to the

"Over 10 dead bodies have been identified and there are
hundreds who are still missing," he said, although he cautioned
that some of the missing may simply be separated from family.

The country's official Antara news agency reported several
deaths had also occurred at two other beach resorts in Java.

"An earthquake has happened and then was followed by a
tsunami on the southern coast of Ciamis (regency)," Indonesian
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono earlier told reporters.

"... 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 was issued by the U.S.-based Pacific Tsunami
Warning Center. Police on Christmas Island, an Australian
territory south of Indonesia, said there was no damage there.

India also issued a warning for the Andaman and Nicobar
islands, 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 nearly 170,000 people killed or missing in
Indonesia's Aceh province. Tens of thousands died elsewhere,
the majority in Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.


Pangandaran, the area that appeared to receive the brunt of
Monday's tsunami, is a popular local tourist spot with many
small hotels on the black-sand beach and is close to a nature

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

"When the waves came, I heard people screaming and then I
heard something like a plane about to crash nearby and I just
ran," Uli Sutarli, a plantation worker who was on Pangandaran
beach, told Reuters by telephone.

"All wooden structures are flattened to the ground but
hotel buildings made out of concrete are still standing. There
is rubbish everywhere," he added.

Hendri Subakti, head seismologist at the West Java
earthquake center, told Reuters the waves were a maximum of 1.5
metres high, although some witness reports talked of waves up
to 5 metres.

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 hit more than 40 km under the Indian Ocean and was
centred 180 km off Pangandaran beach, and fled their offices.

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."

(With additional reporting by Muklis Ali, Diyan Jari,
Muhamad Ari and Yoga Rusmana)