Rescuers dig through rubble for survivors after Indonesian tsunami kills 280

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An excavator cleans road from debris after a tsunami hit Sunda Strait in Pandeglang, Banten province, in Indonesia, Dec. 23, 2018. With death toll now standing at 280, rescuers using heavy machinery and their bare hands are searching for more victims. Xinhua

LABUAN (Reuters) – The death toll from a tsunami that hit the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra after the Anak Krakatau volcano erupted has risen to at least 280, officials said, as rescuers using heavy machinery and their bare hands searched for more victims.

Hundreds more were injured when the tsunami struck, almost without warning, along the rim of the Sunda Strait late on Saturday. More than 3,000 coastal residents were forced to evacuate to higher ground, with a high-tide warning in place until today.

The 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 tourist island of Lombok in July and August, and a double quake-and-tsunami killed more than 2,000 people on Sulawesi island in September.

Search and rescue officials used their bare hands and some heavy machinery to clear the remains of buildings yesterday. Government and non-government aid trickled in to Pandeglang, the worst-affected area on Java’s west coast.

Indonesia’s disaster agency had put the death toll at 222 on Sunday, with about 850 injured and 28 people missing, but raised it to 280 yesterday. A disaster mitigation agency official in Banten province named Jhony told reporters most victims were Indonesian holidaymakers.

Dudi Dwiriadi, a district military commander, said personnel and volunteers had been briefed to sweep at least 100 km of coastline in search of victims.

The timing of the tsunami over the Christmas holiday season evoked memories of the Indian Ocean tsunami triggered by an earthquake on Dec. 26, 2004, which killed 226,000 people in 14 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

Some roads remained blocked by debris and traffic, with families streaming out of the area for fear of further tsunamis.

Heavy equipment was being moved in to help with rescue efforts, as well as water and sanitation equipment. The military said it was deploying troops to distribute aid and blankets, as well as sending in medics.

Anak Krakatau, roughly halfway between Java and Sumatra, has been spewing ash and lava for months. It erupted again just after 9 pm on Saturday and the tsunami struck about 30 minutes later, according to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG).

The tsunami was caused by an undersea landslide resulting from volcanic activity on Anak Krakatau and was exacerbated by abnormally high tides because of the full moon, Mr Nugroho said.

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