Rescuers hunted for survivors and victims under the rubble of hundreds of hotels and houses flattened by a deadly tsunami along Indonesia’s Sunda Strait, with authorities warning the death toll may climb from the 373 already confirmed.
Most of the victims were local holidaymakers staying in the hotels and bungalows along the popular beaches in Lampung and Banten provinces, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency. More than 1,450 people were injured and dozens are missing after tsunami waves lashed the provinces late on Dec. 22, the agency said.
The deadly wave was likely triggered by a flank collapse—in which a section of a volcano gives way—in the south and southwest sides of Mount Anak Krakatau, the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry’s Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation said in a statement. Further investigation and analysis are being carried out to learn other factors that may have played a role.
“The tsunami that occurred is a special case and rare in the world, as well as it’s difficult to predict a partial collapse in a volcano,” the volcanology agency said in the statement.
The latest in a series of natural disasters to strike Southeast Asia’s largest economy this year is set to pose a fresh challenge for President Joko Widodo, as he works to assist the thousands of people displaced amid a presidential election campaign. The tsunami, coming ahead of the peak holiday season, may also hurt the all-important tourism industry and weigh on the nation’s currency, which is among the worst performers in Asia this year.
Indonesia’s meteorological agency previously suspected undersea erosion triggered by volcanic activity of Mount Anak Krakatau, the disaster mitigation agency’s spokesman Sutopo Nugroho said. Authorities failed to recognize the signs of tsunami and alert residents, catching holidaymakers unaware and increasing the casualties.
The death toll could climb as searchers access more areas hit by the tsunami in Pandeglang, South Lampung, Serang, Tanggamus, and Pesawaran regencies, Nugroho said.
Widodo, known as Jokowi, headed to the tsunami-affected regions on Dec. 24 after ordering authorities to step up relief operations, according to an official statement. The president has ordered the purchase of early-warning system equipment by the meteorological agency, known as BMKG, and said that disaster awareness should be included in school curriculum.
“The tsunami pattern in the Sunda Strait is beyond the BMKG prediction, hence people weren’t prepared to rescue themselves,” Jokowi’s office said in a statement. Generally, a tsunami will come after an earthquake, but this time, “it came without being preceded by a quake.”
The tsunami hit Tanjung Lesung, a surfing haven in the westernmost part of the Java island that’s been branded a new Bali by Jokowi’s administration. Three to four hours from the capital Jakarta, Tanjung Lesung shares a coastline with Ujung Kulon National Park, and is located near factories of state-owned steelmaker PT Krakatau Steel and PT Chandra Asri Petrochemical.
Twenty-nine people, mostly employees of state-run electricity producer PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara, were killed when the tsunami swept away the venue of a live music concert attended by about 200 people in Tanjung Lesung. The company said 13 people were still missing while 157 are known to have survived.
No significant damage was reported by companies with major factories nearby. Lampung’s Panjang Port, the main gate for robusta coffee exports, is operating normally, according to Qudratul Ikhwan, head of the provincial transportation office. Indonesia is the world’s third-biggest robusta producer.
Indonesia’s 17,000 islands are prone to earthquakes because the country straddles the Pacific Ring of Fire, an arc of fault lines and volcanoes that causes frequent seismic upheavals. Mount Krakatau is about 156 kilometers west of Jakarta and its eruption in 1883 was one of the deadliest volcanic eruptions in the world, killing more than 36,000 people.
More than 2,000 people were killed and about 80,000 people displaced in Central Sulawesi in September after a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck the island. That was preceded by a series of deadly earthquakes early this year that rattled the popular tourist destination of Lombok island, near Bali.
At least 160,000 people were killed on Sumatra island as a result of a 9.1 magnitude earthquake and tsunami on Boxing Day in 2004. More than 1,100 people were killed in another tsunami and earthquake on the same island in 2009.
By Rieka Rahadiana