- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2006

PANGANDARAN, Indonesia (AP) — Rumors of another killer wave sparked mass panic yesterday in the resort area hardest hit by the Indonesian tsunami, while the death toll rose to 531, with 275 still missing.

More than 1,000 residents of the beach town of Pangandaran fled inland, running, bicycling or driving amid shouts of “The water is coming.”

“People suddenly started running, so I joined them,” said Marino, 42.

It was not clear how the rumor started. Indonesia has no nationwide tsunami-warning system and coastal residents had no notice of the onrushing wave Monday.

Several hours later, a strong earthquake off Java island’s coast caused buildings in the capital, Jakarta, to sway for more than a minute. No damage or casualties were immediately reported.

Monday’s tsunami, triggered by a magnitude 7.7 undersea earthquake, smashed into a 110-mile stretch of Java’s coastline, which was unaffected by the devastating wave in December 2004.

Waves more than 6 feet high reached 200 yards inland in some places, destroying scores of houses, restaurants and hotels. Cars, motorbikes and boats were left mangled amid fishing nets, furniture and other debris.

Amateur video aired yesterday on Metro TV showed children playing in the surf and building sand castles, followed by brief shots of a wall of black water bearing down on Pangandaran beach on Java’s south coast. The camera operator runs away amid the sound of screaming.

The region has been rattled by aftershocks, including yesterday’s quake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.1. Suharjono, head of the earthquake division at Jakarta’s meteorological agency, told Metro TV that the temblor was not strong enough to trigger a tsunami, but he urged people to be on guard.

Police and army teams with dogs and mechanical equipment kept searching for survivors amid the ruins, but found only bodies, pushing the death toll to 531, said Maman Susanto of the government’s disaster-coordinating board. Several foreign tourists were among the dead.

He said 275 persons were listed as missing.

At the area’s main hospital, in the town of Banjar, medics treated 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.

Indonesia was the nation hardest hit by a December 2004 tsunami that killed about 216,000 people in a dozen Indian Ocean nations — with more than half the deaths in Sumatra island’s Aceh province.

The country started to install a warning system after that disaster and had been planning to extend it to Java in 2007.

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