Rain hampers rescue efforts as Indonesia tsunami toll hits 429

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Jakarta, Dec 25 (IANS) Indonesian authorities on Tuesday raised the death toll in the deadly tsunami triggered by a volcanic eruption in Sunda Strait to 429, with search and rescue teams struggling to find survivors and bodies due to heavy rain.

The toll was likely to continue rising as rescue teams were still finding bodies in the water and washed up on small outer islands, National Board for Disaster Management (BNPB) spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a press conference.

According to the latest figures on Tuesday, 1,485 people were injured, 154 remained missing, while 16,082 people sought safety and shelter away from their houses, the Jakarta Post reported.

The tsunami struck the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra almost without warning late Saturday, shortly after the Anak Krakatau volcano erupted in the Sunda Strait dividing the islands.

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The data will change as the joint search team was scouring Pandeglang, Serang, South Lampung, Penawaran and Tenggamus (regencies) — hardest hit by the disaster, said Sutopo.

The BNPB’s records showed that 883 houses, 73 hotels and villas, 60 shops and stalls, 434 boats and 41 motor vehicles were damaged in the Sunda Strait tsunami.

Pandeglang regency in northern Java’s Banten province had recorded the highest death toll of 290.

“The absence and failure of early tsunami warning systems have contributed to the huge casualties because people have no opportunity to be evacuated,” Sutopo said.

Helped by dogs and heavy machinery, troops were combing through every pile of iron and wood that were once homes and market stalls. Still, modern equipment, tents and other necessities were badly needed in the emergency relief, said the BNPB spokesperson.

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Humanitarian workers warned that clean water and medicine supplies were dwindling as thousands crammed makeshift evacuation centres.

According to Sutopo, the Indonesian Navy discovered several bodies in the water and on small offshore islands of Java. He added that overland access was disrupted to seven villages on Java’s southwestern tip. “Even under normal conditions, the roads in that area are poor,” he said.

In a video published on social media, a rescue group managed to find a five-year-old boy alive after being trapped for more than 12 hours.

The authorities blamed the tsunami on the collapse of part of Anak Krakatau volcano after it erupted in the Sunda Strait. Many people were celebrating the holiday period when they were hit by waves 4 to 5 metres high.

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The BNPB said that Indonesia does not have tsunami warning systems that are triggered by volcanic activity, and that buoys in place to detect a sudden rise in wave height after earthquakes do not work due to vandalism, lack of maintenance and funding.

Wednesday marks the anniversary of the Boxing Day tsunami that hit northern Sumatra and another 14 countries on Dec. 26, 2004, leaving 226,500 dead and missing, mostly in Indonesia.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area of great seismic and volcanic activity that is shaken every year by some 7,000 earthquakes, most of them moderate.

–IANS

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