Tragedy struck Indonesia’s Sunda Strait on Saturday night as a tsunami triggered by a volcanic eruption killed at least 373 people and left 1,400 injured, sweeping away hotels, hundreds of houses and a group of people attending a beach concert. The tsunami sent a wall of water, some 20 metres inland, damaging hundreds of homes and other buildings in tourist hotspots of Pandeglang, Serang, South Lampung and popular Tanjung Lesung beach resort in west Java.
Authorities have warned residents and tourists in coastal areas around the Sunda Strait to stay away from beaches and issued a high-tide warning until December 25. The incident brought back memories of December 26, 2004, when a tsunami in the Indian Ocean triggered by an earthquake killed 2,26,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 1,20,000 in Indonesia.
What caused the tsunami? How many people have died?
The tsunami was caused by “an undersea landslide resulting from volcanic activity on Anak Krakatau” and was exacerbated by abnormally high tide because of the current full moon, Indonesia’s disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said. An earthquake geologist and a professor at the University of Michigan said the tsunami might have been caused by a “partial collapse” of Anak Krakatau.
“Instability of the slope of an active volcano can create a rock slide that moves a large volume of water, creating local tsunami waves that can be very powerful. This is like suddenly dropping a bag of sand in a tub filled with water,” Reuters quoted the professor as saying.
At the time of writing this report, the Indonesian authorities had revised the death toll upward to 222. “222 people are dead, 843 people are injured and 28 people are missing,” AFP quoted Indonesia’s national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho as saying.
Nugroho further said the toll was bound to increase as rescue operation teams have not been able to reach all areas. “This number is predicted to increase because not all victims have been successfully evacuated, not all health centres have reported victims and not all locations have got complete data,” he said.
How much loss to property has been estimated? Which areas have been worst hit?
The tsunami, that struck on Saturday around 9.30 pm, left a trail of uprooted trees and debris from thatch-bamboo shacks were strewn across beaches. A tangled mess of corrugated steel roofing, timber and rubble were dragged inland at Carita beach, a popular tourist spot on the west coast of Java. Several hotels and hundreds of homes were heavily damaged.
Pandeglang district on Java’s western tip was the worst affected, with 164 people dead. A large number of casualties were recorded at two hotels in the area. Eleven people died further north in Serang, while 48 were killed in South Lampung, on Sumatra island.
How are rescue operations progressing?
While rescue efforts are in full swing, workers and ambulances are finding it difficult to reach affected areas because some roads were blocked by debris from damaged houses, overturned cars and fallen trees.
Kathy Mueller from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said teams of aid workers were helping to evacuate the injured and bring in clean water, tarpaulins and provide shelter. She also said they were preparing for the possibility of diseases breaking out in the tsunami zone. Heavy equipment was transported to badly hit areas to help search for victims and evacuation posts and public kitchens were being set up for evacuees.
How have eye-witnesses reacted?
One of the major reasons behind such a high death toll is that coastal residents reported not seeing or feeling any warning signs on Saturday night, such as receding water or an earthquake. A video has gone viral, showing a large wave crashing into a concert by pop group “Seventeen” — hurling band members off the stage and then flooding into the audience.
Photographer Oystein Andersen described how he was caught up in the disaster while on the beach taking photos of Anak Krakatoa. “I suddenly saw a big wave. I had to run, as the wave passed the beach and landed 15-20m inland. (The) next wave entered the hotel area where I was staying and downed cars on the road behind it,” he wrote on Facebook.
Azki Kurniawan, 16, who was undergoing vocational training with a group of 30 other students at Patra Comfort Hotel, said a wave of people suddenly burst into the lobby. He said he ran to the parking lot to try to reach his motorbike but the area was already flooded by then. “Suddenly a 3.3-foot wave hit me. I was thrown into the fence of a building about 100 feet from the beach and held onto the fence as strong as I could, trying to resist the water, which felt like it would drag me back into the sea. I cried in fear…I was afraid I would die,” Kurniawan said.
What led the Anak Krakatoa volcano to erupt?
The volcano that apparently triggered the tsunami in Indonesia emerged from the sea around the Krakatoa island 90 years ago and has been on a high-level eruption watchlist for the past decade. Anak Krakatoa (the “Child of Krakatoa”) has been particularly active since June, occasionally sending massive plumes of ash high into the sky and in October a tour boat was nearly hit by lava bombs from the erupting volcano. Experts say Anak Krakatoa emerged around 1928 in the caldera of Krakatoa, a volcanic island that violently erupted in 1883.
Since its birth, Anak Krakatoa has been in a “state of semi-continuous eruptive activity”, growing bigger as it experiences eruptions every two to three years, volcanology professor Ray Cas from Monash University in Australia told AFP.
When Krakatoa erupted on August 27, 1883, it shot a column of ash more than 20 kilometres into the air in a series of powerful explosions that were heard as far as 4,500 kilometres away near Mauritius. The tsunami triggered by the eruption killed more than 36,000 people in one of the world’s worst natural disasters.
Why is Indonesia prone to tsunamis?
Indonesia is prone to tsunamis because it lies on the Ring of Fire – the line of frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that circles virtually the entire Pacific Rim. In September, more than 2,000 people died when a powerful earthquake struck just off the central Indonesian island of Sulawesi, setting off a tsunami that engulfed the coastal city of Palu.
However, the worst tragedy recorded till date is the one that happened on December 26, 2004, when a tsunami triggered by a magnitude 9.3 undersea earthquake off the coast of Sumatra in western Indonesia killed 2,20,000 people in countries around the Indian Ocean, including 168,000 in Indonesia.