Search for tsunami victims continues as death toll tops 400

Indonesian rescuers on Tuesday used drones and sniffer dogs to search for survivors along the devastated west coast of Java hit by a tsunami that killed at least 429 people, warning more victims are expected to be uncovered as the search expands.

High-tide warning continues, sending thousands fleeing to higher ground

A man looks on as he sits with others at a shelter in Cigeulis on Tuesday after a tsunami hit Banten province, Indonesia. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

Indonesian rescuers on Tuesday used drones and sniffer dogs to search for survivors along the devastated west coast of Java hit by a tsunami that killed at least 429 people, warning more victims are expected to be uncovered as the search expands. 

Thick ash clouds continued to spew from Anak Krakatau, a volcanic island where a crater collapse at high tide on Saturday, sent waves smashing into coastal areas on both sides of the Sunda Strait between the islands of Sumatra and Java. 

At least 154 people remain missing. More than 1,400 people were injured, and thousands of residents had to move to higher ground, with a high-tide warning extended to Wednesday. 

Rescuers used heavy machinery, sniffer dogs and special cameras to detect and dig bodies out of mud and wreckage along a 100-kilometre stretch of Java's west coast, and officials said the search area would be expanded further south.

"There are several locations that we previously thought were not affected," said Yusuf Latif, spokesperson for the national search-and-rescue agency. 

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"But now we are reaching more remote areas ... and, in fact, there are many victims there," he added.

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.

Indonesian marines search for tsunami victims at a beach in Sumur, Indonesia, Tuesday. Officials said the death toll has topped 400 and is expected to continue to rise. (Achmad Ibrahim/Associated Press)

Earthquakes flattened parts of the island of Lombok in July and August, and a double quake-and-tsunami killed more than 2,000 people on a remote part of Sulawesi island in September. 

It took just 24 minutes after the landslide for waves to hit land, and there was no early warning for those living on the coast.

Temporary shelters

Authorities have warned of further high waves and advised residents to stay away from the shoreline.

"Since Anak Krakatau has been actively erupting for the past several months, additional tsunamis cannot be excluded," said Prof. Hermann Fritz, from the Georgia Institute of Technology in the U.S. 

Rescue efforts were hampered by heavy rainfall and low visibility. Military and volunteer teams used drones to assess the extent of the damage along the coast. 

A woman displaced by the tsunami waits to receive food from police near Tanjung Lesung, Banten province, Indonesia, on Tuesday. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

Food, water, blankets and medical aid is trickling into remote areas via inland roads that are choked with traffic. 

Thousands of people are staying in tents and temporary shelters like mosques or schools, with dozens sleeping on the floor and using public facilities. Many remained traumatized by the disaster. 

"We can't sleep at night. And if we get to sleep, a car goes past with sirens and we wake up again, on edge," said Enah, a 29-year-old woman who managed to survive with her family. 

A local official in the city of Labuan, Atmadja Suhara, said he was helping to care for 4,000 people who have been displaced, many of whom had been left homeless. 

An officer shows seismograph results of Anak Krakatau volcano moments before the tsunami hit Sunda Strait in this photo taken by Antara Foto Tuesday. (Antara Foto/Akbar Nugroho Gumay via Reuters)

"Everybody is still in a state of panic," he said. "We often have disasters, but not as bad as this.

"God willing," he said, "we will rebuild."

Destruction was visible along much of the coastline where waves of up to two metres crushed vehicles, felled trees, lifted chunks of metal and wooden beams and household items and deposited them on roads and rice fields.

Out in the strait, Anak Krakatau, or "Child of Krakatoa," was still erupting and authorities imposed a two-kilometre exclusion zone around it. 

The meteorology agency said that an area of about 64 hectares, or about 90 soccer pitches, of the volcanic island had collapsed into the sea.

In 1883, the volcano, then known as Krakatoa, erupted in one of the biggest blasts in recorded history, killing more than 36,000 people in a series of tsunamis, and lowering the global surface temperature by 1 C with its ash. Anak Krakatau is the island that emerged from the area in 1927, and has been growing ever since.

A doll lies outside a damaged house in Sumur, Indonesia, Tuesday, following the tsunami. (Tatan Syuflana/Associated Press)

President Joko Widodo, who is running for re-election in April, told disaster agencies to install early warning systems, but experts said that, unlike tsunami caused by earthquakes, little could have been done in time to alert people that waves were coming in this instance.

The timing of the disaster over the Christmas 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.