Sat, 04 Jun 1994

Tidal waves kill over 150 in East Java

JAKARTA (JP): Tidal waves triggered by a major earthquake destroyed several settlements along the coast in the southeastern Java town of Banyuwangi before dawn yesterday, killing more than 150 people.

The huge waves which struck shortly before 2 a.m. caught most people in their sleep.

The number of casualties is expected to continue to increase as many survivors were still searching for their missing relatives in late afternoon yesterday, according to reporters from the Surabaya-based Surya daily newspaper in Banyuwangi.

Officials were not releasing casualty figures yesterday and the figures on the dead and wounded come from mostly unofficial body counts by Surya in five villages along the coast.

The Pesanggaran district was the worst hit area, according to the reporters. In Pancer village, where over 200 houses were destroyed, 45 people were killed, in Lampon another 25, in Rajegwesi 21 and Pulau Merah 15.

In nearby Purwoharjo district, 13 people were killed.

The state network TVRI reported last night that 128 people were killed and more than 80 injured in Banyuwangi.

A police officer in Banyuwangi said that there were at least 150 deaths, but stressed that this was not an official toll as local government officials were still checking with the situation in the field.

The tidal waves came immediately after an earthquake measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale in the Indian Ocean southeast of Java.

The tremor was felt in various cities in East Java, including the hill-towns of Malang and Jember, but there were no reports of casualties although there were some structural damage, according to the Antara news agency.

The Meteorology and Geophysics Office in Malang said that it recorded 30 more tremors of lesser intensity throughout the day yesterday.

This is the second worst natural disaster to have hit Indonesia this year. In February, some 200 people were killed when an earthquake measuring 6.5 on the Richter Scale struck the district capital of Liwa in western Lampung.

Tidal waves combined with a powerful earthquake killed over 2,000 people on Flores Island in East Nusa Tenggara province in December 1992.

The Banyuwangi regency office yesterday set up tents and opened community kitchens to accommodate the hundreds of people who have been left homeless by the tidal waves.

"This is a big calamity for us," Regent T. Purnomo Sidik, as he toured the affected villages. "I'm appealing to the people's sense of solidarity to give a hand to the victims."

The Search and Rescue (SAR) agency has also sent its officers to work alongside the military in searching for more bodies.

Survivors of the tidal waves recounted that the water struck unexpectedly, although many said they heard the roaring sound.

"I thought it was the wind. But then suddenly we were hit by water," 60-year old Akas told the Surya as he was being treated with a foot injury at the Pessangaran health center.

Akas still did not know what had happened to the other members of his family.

The village elders said there were omens of tragedy, because on Thursday night there was a Wayang Kulit puppet show with a performance of Semar Kethok Kuncung, a title that they said is always bound to anger the gods.

Another survivor, a fish seller, recalled that he and 24 others were on the coastline in Grajagan village waiting for the arrival of fishing boats when they saw the water suddenly rise and batter them.

Hasan, the survivor, recalled that many people tried to stay afloat. "But even if you can swim, there was no way you could've fought the strong wave."

There were hysterical cries from women survivors as they went through the ruble searching for their relatives, while hundreds of homeless people left their villages looking for shelter with relatives in other villages.

In Pancer, where 45 people were killed, people had to queue to bury their dead because there weren't enough grave diggers, according to Surya reporters. (emb/pwn/pan)