Death toll still climbing from Indonesia's 'silent tsunami'
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Death toll still climbing from Indonesia's 'silent tsunami'

Australia has offered to give assistance to Indonesia after a tsunami killed 429 people and counting, but the Indonesian authorities have said they would not be accepting any offers of assistance.

The confirmed death toll from the wave jumped again on Christmas day as more remote areas to the south were opened up for the first time since it hit on Saturday night.

People inspect the damage at a tsunami-ravaged village in Sumur, Indonesia, on Christmas Day.

People inspect the damage at a tsunami-ravaged village in Sumur, Indonesia, on Christmas Day.Credit:AP

Rescuers were using drones and sniffer dogs in the search for survivors along the devastated west coast of Java on Tuesday, and pushed into the Sumur area in the far south for the first time.

Even so, some smaller villages remain inaccessible, and more victims are expected to be uncovered as the search expands into areas cut off by damaged roads.

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Australia yesterday offered to send aid, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirming on Christmas Day that Australia would help its neighbour if requested.

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But asked if Indonesia would accept it, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the disaster mitigation agency replied: "No".

The tsunami which hit both sides of the Sunda strait between Jakarta and Sumatra on Saturday night was most likely caused by an eruption and land-slip from island-volcano, Anak Krakatoa, or the "child of Krakatoa". This is a relatively young volcano that is growing out of the ruins of its "parent" which exploded with devastating consequences in 1883.

The meteorology agency said that an area of about 64 hectares, or 90 soccer pitches, of the volcanic island had collapsed into the sea.

Thick ash clouds continued to spew from the mountain, and authorities and experts have warned of further high waves and advised residents to stay away from the shoreline.

Anak Krakatoa pictured the day after the deadly Sunda Strait tsunami.

Anak Krakatoa pictured the day after the deadly Sunda Strait tsunami.

"Since Anak Krakatoa has been actively erupting for the past several months, additional tsunamis cannot be excluded," said Prof Hermann Fritz from the Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States.

In a statement late yesterday Australian time, Sutopo said at least 154 people remain missing and about 1000 were injured. More than 16,000 had been evacuated from their homes, thousands of them moving to higher ground, with a high-tide warning extended to Wednesday.

Rescuers used heavy machinery, sniffer dogs, and special cameras to detect and dig bodies out of mud and wreckage along a 100km stretch of Java's west coast and officials said the search area would be expanded further south.

"There are several locations that we previously thought were not affected," said Yusuf Latif, spokesman for the national search and rescue agency, "but now we are reaching more remote areas ... and in fact there are many victims there".

A man clears debris in front of damaged cars and buildings at the Villa Avi Redita in Carita.

A man clears debris in front of damaged cars and buildings at the Villa Avi Redita in Carita.Credit:Bloomberg

Indonesia's vast archipelago, which sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", has suffered its worst annual death toll from disasters in more than a decade.

Earthquakes flattened parts of the island of Lombok in July and August, and a double quake and tsunami killed more than 2000 people in Palu, on Sulawesi in September. The government also rejected international offers of help in Lombok, saying they had the resources to deal with the crisis themselves. However, authorities accepted assistance for the rescue effort in remote Palu.

In the latest disaster, it took just 24 minutes after the landslide for waves to hit land, and there was no early warning for those living on the coast.

A tsunami survivor walks at a tsunami-ravaged village in Sumur, Indonesia.

A tsunami survivor walks at a tsunami-ravaged village in Sumur, Indonesia.Credit:AP

The hardest hit areas include Carita and Tanjung Lesung, both popular tourist destinations, on the island of Java, and Lampung on the island of Sumatra.

Sutopo said on Monday night that officers were able to access remote areas with vehicles and heavy equipment. However, he added on Tuesday that not all areas are yet accessible, due to damaged roads. Navy ship Torani 680 was helping deliver personnel and logistics to the region via land and sea.

The scene in Sumur.

The scene in Sumur.Credit:AP

Sutopo called on the Indonesian government to spend the money on an early warning system that could detect volcano-triggered tsunamis.

"There was no early warning system for the tsunami which caused a lot of victims because people didn’t have a chance to evacuate.”

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President Joko Widodo has now ordered that an early warning system that can detect volcanic eruptions and undersea landslides should be purchased.

With Reuters, AAP

Michael Bachelard is The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald's foreign editor and the investigations editor at The Age. He has worked in Canberra, Melbourne and Jakarta as Indonesia correspondent. He has written two books and won multiple awards for journalism, including the Gold Walkley in 2017.

Amilia Rosa is Assistant Indonesia Correspondent for Fairfax Media.

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