CARITA, Indonesia | At least 168 people were killed and hundreds wounded when a tsunami suddenly hit the beaches of the Indonesian Strait of Sonde on Saturday night following a volcanic eruption, creating panic among tourists and locals alike.
Hundreds of buildings were swept away by the wave, which swept through the southern shores of Sumatra and the western end of Java Island around 9:30 pm local time (9:30 am in Montreal). The wave erupted after the eruption of the volcano known as “the child” of the legendary Krakatoa, Anak Krakatoa, according to Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency.
“The total number of dead is 168, there are 745 wounded and 30 people are missing,” he said, significantly raising a previous record of about 60 deaths.
Rescuers were looking for survivors through the debris.
Dramatic video images posted on social networks show a wall of water that falls on an outdoor concert given by the pop group “Seventeen”. Its members are projected off the stage by the wave that is spreading among the spectators. In a post on Instragram, the singer of the band Riefian Fajarsyah struggles to contain his emotion by announcing the death of the bassist and the organizer of the tours of the musicians.
On TV pictures, we can see that the wave has dragged on the beach of Carita, a popular tourist site on the west coast of Java, a pile of various rubbish, scrap roof plates or pieces of wood.
Trees have also been uprooted while the ground is littered with debris.
In Carita, 15-year-old Muhammad Bintang witnessed the wave that plunged the place into darkness. “We arrived at 9 pm for the holidays and suddenly the water arrived. Everything has become black. There was no electricity, “said the teenager. “Outside, it’s disorder, we still can not reach the road”.
In the province of Lampung, on the other side of the strait, 23-year-old Lutfi Al Rasyid tells AFP that he fled to Kalianda beach to save his life. “I could not get my bike started, so I left and ran … I prayed and ran as fast as I could.”
According to the authorities, the tsunami was triggered by an abnormal rising tide due to the new moon, combined with an underwater landslide caused by the eruption of Anak Krakatoa, a small island in the Sunda Strait that separates Java and Sumatra.
Hingga 23/12/2018 pukul 07.00 WIB, data sementara dampak tsunami di Selat Sunda: 43 orang meninggal dunia, 584 orang luka-luka dan 2 orang hilang. Kerugian fisik meliputi 430 unit rumah rusak berat, 9 hotel rusak berat, 10 kapal rusak berat dan puluhan rusak. pic.twitter.com/IfKnx29QKA
— Sutopo Purwo Nugroho (@Sutopo_PN) December 23, 2018
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“The combination [of both factors] caused a sudden tsunami that hit the coast,” Nugroho said, adding that the Indonesian geological agency was conducting an investigation to find out exactly what happened.
The human toll is likely to get even heavier, he warned.
Videos posted on the social networks by the spokesperson show panicked inhabitants armed with flashlights who are fleeing to take refuge on the heights.
The Indonesian authorities had initially declared that the wave was not a tsunami, but a rising tide, and called on the population not to panic.
“It was a mistake, we’re sorry,” Mr. Nugroho later wrote on Twitter.
Data sementara dampak tsunami di Pantai di Kab Pandeglang, Serang dan Lampung Selatan hingga 23/12/2018 pukul 04.30 WIB: tercatat 20 orang meninggal dunia, 165 orang luka-luka, 2 orang hilang dan puluhan bangunan rusak. Data korban kemungkinan masih akan terus bertambah. pic.twitter.com/6f7buuoD5Y
— Sutopo Purwo Nugroho (@Sutopo_PN) December 22, 2018
Although relatively rare, submarine volcanic eruptions can cause tsunamis, according to the Tsunami International Information Center.
According to the Indonesian Center for Volcanology and Geological Risk Management, Anak Krakatoa has been showing signs of increased activity over the past week. An eruption that occurred shortly before 4 pm lasted about 13 minutes, sending hundreds of meters into the sky a thick plume of ashes.
The Anak (“child” in Indonesian) is a small volcanic island that emerged from the waters half a century after the deadly Krakatoa eruption of 1883. It is one of 127 active volcanoes in Indonesia.
When the Krakatoa erupted in the 19th century, a huge column of smoke, stones and ash had risen in the sky at 20 km, plunging the region into darkness and triggering a powerful tsunami. About 36,000 people were killed.
Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,000 islands and islets that was formed by the convergence of three large tectonic plates (Indo-Pacific, Australian, Eurasian), is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area of high seismic activity.
On September 28, an earthquake of magnitude 7.5 and the subsequent tidal wave devastated the city of Palu, on the west coast of Celebes, and its surroundings, killing at least 2073 people. But 5,000 other people are still missing, most buried under the rubble of destroyed buildings.
In 2004, a tsunami caused by a 9.3 earthquake off Sumatra killed 220,000 people on the shores of the Indian Ocean, including 168,000 in Indonesia.