Sunday 22 September 2019

Volcano sets off tsunami in Indonesia - at least 222 dead

Holidaymakers and concert-goers swept away from beaches by ferocious wave

Tragedy: A man reacts after identifying his relative among the bodies in Carita, Indonesia. Photo: AP Photo/Fauzy Chaniago
Tragedy: A man reacts after identifying his relative among the bodies in Carita, Indonesia. Photo: AP Photo/Fauzy Chaniago

Niniek Karmini

An eruption of one of the world's most infamous volcanic islands is believed to have triggered a tsunami that killed at least 222 people in Indonesia during a busy holiday weekend. Upwards of 843 people were injured.

The waves smashed onto beaches at night without warning, ripping houses and hotels from their foundations in seconds and sweeping terrified concert-goers into the sea.

More than 800 people were injured and dozens more are missing after the tsunami hit around the Sunda Strait at 9.27pm on Saturday, the Disaster Management Agency said.

The toll could continue to rise because some areas have not yet been reached.

Scientists, including those from Indonesia's Meteorology and Geophysics agency, said yesterday that the tsunami could have been caused by underwater landslides or those occurring above ground on Anak Krakatau's steep slope following its eruption.

The volcano's name translates to 'Child of Krakatoa', a volcanic island formed over years after one of the largest, most devastating eruptions in recorded history occurred at the Krakatoa volcano more than a century ago. The scientists also cited tidal waves caused by the full moon.

Dramatic video posted on social media showed the Indonesian pop band 'Seventeen' performing under a tent on a popular beach at a concert.

Dozens of people sat listening at tables, while others danced to the music.

Seconds later, the stage suddenly heaved forward and buckled under the force of the water, tossing the band and its equipment into the audience.

The group released a statement, saying their bass player, guitarist and road manager had been found dead, while two other band members and the wife of one of the performers remained missing. Tourists were also affected.

The Anak Krakatau volcano lies in the Sunda Strait, between Java and Sumatra islands, linking the Indian Ocean and Java Sea.

It erupted about 24 minutes before the tsunami, the geophysics agency said.

The worst-affected area was the Pandeglang region of Java's Banten province, which encompasses Ujung Kulon National Park and beaches.

Indonesian President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo expressed his sympathy and ordered government agencies to respond quickly to the disaster.

US President Donald Trump also offered his condolences.

"Unthinkable devastation from the tsunami disaster in Indonesia. More than two hundred dead and nearly a thousand injured or unaccounted for. We are praying for recovery and healing. America is with you!" he said on Twitter.

In the city of Bandar Lampung on Sumatra, hundreds of residents took refuge at the governor's office, while at the popular resort area of Anyer beach on Java, some survivors appeared lost.

Azki Kurniawan (16) said he was undergoing vocational training with a group of 30 other students at Patra Comfort Hotel when people suddenly burst into the lobby yelling: "Sea water rising!"

He ran to the car park to try to reach his motorbike. But by the time he got there, it was already flooded.

"Suddenly a one-meter wave hit me," he said. "I was thrown into the fence of a building about 30 metres from the beach and held onto the fence as strongly as I could. I cried and was afraid I would die."

The 305-metre Anak Krakatau volcano, about 200km southwest of Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, has been erupting since June, sometimes spewing glowing lava and tall columns of ash.

Gegar Prasetya, co-founder of the Tsunami Research Centre Indonesia, said Saturday's tsunami was likely caused by a flank collapse - when a big section of a volcano's slope gives way.

He said it was possible for an eruption to trigger a landslide above ground or beneath the ocean, with both capable of producing waves.

"Actually, the tsunami was not really big, only one metre," said Mr Prasetya, who has closely studied Krakatoa.

However, he added: "The problem is that people always tend to build everything close to the shoreline."

Nine hotels and hundreds of homes were heavily damaged by the waves. Broken chunks of concrete and splintered sticks of wood littered hard-hit coastal areas.

Vehicles tossed by the waves remained belly-up in the rubble or were lodged in the air under collapsed roofs. Debris from thatch-bamboo shacks was strewn along beaches.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago of more than 17,000 islands and home to some 260 million people, lies along the 'Ring of Fire', an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.

Roads and infrastructure are poor in many areas of the disaster-prone country, making access difficult.

In September, more than 2,500 people were killed by an earthquake and tsunami that hit the city of Palu on the island of Sulawesi, east of Borneo.

Irish Independent

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