Tsunami Set Off by Volcano Sweeps Indonesia Coast; 168 People Dead

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) -
Debris is seen after a tsunami hit the area in Pandeglang, Banten province, Indonesia, Sunday. (Reuters/Stringer)

During a busy weekend, a tsunami apparently caused by the eruption of an island volcano killed more than 160 people around Indonesia’s Sunda Strait, sending a wall of water crashing ashore and sweeping away people at the beach along with hundreds of houses including hotels, the government and witnesses said.

More than 700 people have been reported injured since the tsunami hit at 9:27 p.m. Saturday, the Disaster Management Agency said. At least 30 others are unaccounted for.

The disaster could have been caused by undersea landslides from the eruption of Anak Krakatau, a volcanic island formed over years from the nearby Krakatau volcano, scientists from Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency said. They also cited tidal waves caused by the full moon.

“I had to run, as the wave passed the beach and landed 15-20 meters inland,” Norwegian Øystein Lund Andersen wrote on social media. The self-described photographer and volcano-enthusiast said he was taking pictures of the volcano when he suddenly saw a big wave come toward him.

“Next wave entered the hotel area where I was staying and downed cars on the road behind it. Managed to evacuate with my family to higher ground through forest paths and villages, where we are taken care of [by] the locals. Were unharmed, thankfully.”

A villager walks past a car damaged by a tsunami, in Carita, Indonesia, Sunday. (AP Photo/Dian Triyuli Handoko)

The worst affected area was the Pandeglang region of Banten province in Java, which encompasses the Ujung Kulon National Park and popular beaches, the disaster agency said. Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said 168 deaths have been confirmed so far and another 30 people are missing. Also, 745 were injured. He said those numbers may still rise since not all affected areas have been reached.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo expressed his sympathy and ordered government agencies to respond quickly to the disaster.

“My deep condolences to the victims in Banten and Lumpung provinces,” he said. “Hopefully, those who are left have patience.”

The Anak Krakatau volcano in the Sunda Strait that links the Indian Ocean and Java Sea erupted about 24 minutes before the tsunami, the geophysics agency said.

The 1,000-foot-high volcano, about 124 miles southwest of the capital Jakarta, has been erupting since June. In July, authorities widened its no-go areas to 1.24 miles from the crater.

Gegar Prasetya, co-founder of the Tsunami Research Center Indonesia, said the waves were likely caused by a flank collapse — when a big section of a volcano’s slope gives way. He said it’s possible for an eruption to trigger a landslide above ground or beneath the ocean, both capable of producing a tsunami.

“Actually, the tsunami was not really big, only one meter,” said Prasetya, who has closely studied Krakatau. “The problem is people always tend to build everything close to the shoreline.”

Physical losses included 430 heavily damaged homes, nine heavily damaged hotels and 10 heavily damaged vessels. Footage posted by the head of the disaster agency showed the aftermath of flooded streets and an overturned car.

In September, more than 2,500 people were killed by a quake and tsunami that hit the city of Palu on the island of Sulawesi, which is just east of Borneo.

Saturday’s tsunami triggered memories for some of the massive 9.1-magnitude earthquake that hit on Dec. 26, 2004. It spawned a giant tsunami off Sumatra island in western Indonesia, killing more than 230,000 people in a dozen countries — the majority in Indonesia. The vast archipelago of more than 17,000 islands is home to 260 million people. Roads and infrastructure are poor in many areas, making access difficult in the best of conditions.