Thu, Jul 20, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Tsunami rumor triggers panic

DEATH TOLL Indonesian rescue teams continued searching for survivors from Monday's tidal wave, but found only bodies, pushing the toll to 531

AP , PANGANDARAN, INDONESIA

Unfounded rumors of another killer wave sparked mass panic yesterday in the town hardest hit by the Indonesian tsunami, as amateur video captured some of the horror of the disaster. The death toll rose to 531, with more than 270 missing.

The video shows children playing in the surf and building sandcastles followed by brief footage of a wall of black water bearing down on the beach in Pangandaran. The camera person then runs away amid screams. The video was shown on Metro TV.

The tsunami was triggered by a magnitude 7.7 undersea earthquake and smashed into a 180km stretch of Java's coastline, which was unaffected by the devastating 2004 Asian tsunami.

The waves, more than 2m high, reached 200m inland in some places, destroying scores of houses, restaurants and hotels. Cars, motorbikes and boats were left mangled in fishing nets, furniture and other debris.

It was unclear how yesterday's rumor of another tsunami spread, but it caused mass panic among the town's traumatized residents. Shouting "the water is coming!", more than 1,000 ran from the beach area or jumped on bikes or in cars and headed inland.

"People suddenly started running so I joined them," said Marino, a 42-year-old man who was caught up in the exodus.

Police and army teams with sniffer dogs and mechanical equipment yesterday kept searching for survivors, but found only bodies amid the ruins, pushing the death toll to 531, said Maman Susanto, from the government's national disaster coordinating board. Several foreign tourists were among the dead.

He said another 275 people were listed as missing.

The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and Japan's Meteorological Agency issued warnings of a possible tsunami about 15 minutes after Monday's quake. The tsunami struck Java about 45 minutes later before authorities had time to warn anyone on the coast.

At the area's main hospital, in the town of Banjar, medics yesterday treated a steady stream of patients, most from the Pangandaran coast. Some slept on dirty mattresses on the floor, while others were treated in the admissions hall.

Surgeons amputated the left leg of a women who was trapped under the rubble of her house.

"I thought I was going do die, but God gave me mercy so I can carry on with my life," said Tintin Rotiyani from her hospital bed.

Science and Technology Minister Kusmayanto Kadiman appeared to back away from comments made on Tuesday that the government received both regional tsunami bulletins, but did not attempt to announce the warnings.

He told el-Shinta radio yesterday that the government's meteorological agency sent SMS messages to at least 400 officials and one of his staffers appeared on national television to warn of the tsunami.

But Kadiman did not say whether the actions were taken before the tsunami hit, or whether the 400 officials lived on the threatened coastline.

Moreover, with no warning sirens or alarms on the beaches, getting the message to significant numbers of residents and tourists would likely have been impossible.

Indonesia was hardest hit by a 2004 tsunami that killed at least 216,000 people in a dozen Indian Ocean nations. Though the country started to install a warning system after that disaster, it is still in the early stages of deployment.

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