Volcano-triggered tsunami kills scores in Indonesia

At least 222 people died in Indonesia after a tsunami hit beaches around Sunda Strait late Saturday evening, the country’s disaster agency says, raising earlier tolls.

It hit the area between Java and Sumatra, injuring more than 800 other people. At least 28 people are still missing and hundreds of homes, some hotels and other buildings have been destroyed,according to Indonesia’s Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

The number of casualties is expected to rise as data comes in from areas affected by the disaster, BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in a statement on Sunday.

Authorities said the wave was likely caused by an eruption of Anak Krakatau volcano, possibly due to underwater landslides as well as an abnormal tidal surge due to a new moon. The volcano erupted about 24 minutes before the tsunami, scientists said. 

“The combination caused a sudden tsunami that hit the coast,” Nugroho said, but added that Indonesia’s geological agency was investigating the cause.

‘One of a kind’

Rudi Suhendar, the head of Indonesia’s Geological Agency of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, told DW the latest tsunami was one of its kind. “That’s why we were not ready. The early warning system was also not in place. We only have the early warning system when there is an earthquake before the tsunami.”

Anak Krakatau is a small volcanic island that emerged half a century after Krakatoa’s 1883 eruption, which killed over 36,000 people. Indonesia’s geological agency said that Anak Krakatau had been showing signs of heightened activity for days, spewing plumes of ash thousands of meters into the air.

“Normally, a tsunami is preceded by large tectonic earthquakes. But the problem is that the tsunami in Banten and Lampung was not caused by an earthquake this time. However, the information from the geological agency reveals that there have been tremors around Mount Anak Krakatau since June,” Muhamad Sadly from Indonesia’s disaster management agency, BMKG, told DW.

Scenes of devastation

The victims were mainly in the areas of Padenglang Regency, South Lampung and Serang, all less than 150 kilometers (93 miles) west of Jakarta.

Nugroho shared a video of the scene showing cars stuck in high water.

He later shared images of the aftermath in daylight.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo offered his condolences in a tweet, saying that he has ordered all relevant government departments to provide assistance to those affected by the disaster.

Caution advised

Authorities warned residents and tourists to stay away from beaches in the strait while a high-tide warning remained in place until December 25.

“We have warned people to stay away from the coastline as there could be another tsunami,” said BMGK’s expert Sadly.

Saturday’s tsunami was reminiscent of several similar disasters that have struck the vast archipelago, including the massive earthquake and seismic sea wave in 2004 that killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

In October, 2,000 people died when an earthquake and a tsunami hit Sulawesi.

Just this year, successive smaller earthquakes have flattened parts of the tourist island of Lombok, while a double quake-and-tsunami killed thousands on Sulawesi island.

Read more: The last mile — What failed in the Sulawesi tsunami disaster

shs,aw/tj (Reuters, AFP)