Rumors of New Indonesia Tsunami Spark Panic

By ANTHONY DEUTSCH
The Associated Press
Wednesday, July 19, 2006; 4:14 PM

PANGANDARAN, Indonesia -- Rumors of another killer wave sparked mass panic Wednesday in the resort area hardest hit by the Indonesian tsunami, while the death toll rose to 531, with more than 270 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 unclear 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. There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.

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 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 Wednesday on Metro TV showed children playing in the surf and building sandcastles, 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 Wednesday'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.

Ambulances with sirens blaring brought bodies to a cemetery in Pangandaran for a mass burial as hundreds looked on. As darkness fell, 24 unidentified corpses were tagged with numbers and laid in the ground, five children among them.

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 people were listed as missing.


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