- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2006

PANGANDARAN, Indonesia — Rescue teams recovered corpses yesterday from beaches, homes and hotels ravaged by Indonesia’s second tsunami in as many years, pushing the death toll to at least 341. Nearly 230 people were missing.

The government, under fire for failing to pass on warnings about the impending disaster, vowed to move quickly to build an alert system across the country, which straddles one of the world’s most violent seismic zones.

Bodies covered in white sheets were piled up at makeshift morgues, while others lay under the blazing sun in the tourist resort of Pangandaran.

The search for survivors continued yesterday, with parents among the last to give up.

“The water was too strong,” said Irah as she dug through a pile of rubble with her bare hands, close to the spot where she last saw her 6-year-old son. “Oh God, Eki, where are you?”

The magnitude 7.7 undersea quake Monday triggered walls of water more than 6 feet high that crashed into a 110-mile stretch of beach on Java island, an area spared by the devastating December 2004 Asian tsunami.

Almost all the victims were Indonesians; but a Pakistani, a Swede and a Dutch citizen were among those killed, officials said.

At least 42,000 persons fled their homes, either because their dwellings were destroyed or they feared another tsunami, adding to the difficulty of counting casualties.

At the area’s main hospital, in the town of Banjar, medics scrambled to treat a steady stream of patients, most from the Pangandaran coast. Some slept on dirty mattresses on the floor, while others were treated in the admissions hall.

Monday’s quake occurred at 3:24 p.m. about 150 miles beneath the ocean floor, causing tall buildings to sway hundreds of miles away in the capital, Jakarta.

After the quake, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and Japan’s Meteorological Agency issued warnings of a possible tsunami. It struck Java about an hour later.

Science and Technology Minister Kusmayanto Kadiman said Indonesia received the bulletins 45 minutes before the tsunami hit but did not announce them because they did not want to cause unnecessary alarm.

“If [the tsunami] did not occur, what would have happened?” he told reporters in Jakarta, noting that there was no effective way to spread a warning without a system of sirens or alarms in place.

He said Indonesia now planned to speed up plans for a nationwide warning system.

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