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Natural disasters

Indonesia tsunami death toll tops 370, with dozens missing

Disaster likely triggered by eruption of Mount Anak Krakatau

JAKARTA -- Desperate search and rescue operations are underway in areas along Indonesia's Sunda Strait hit by a powerful tsunami late Saturday, with the death toll reaching 373 and expected to climb higher because of a large number of vacationers.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency, or BNPB, announced on Monday evening that in addition to the dead, 1,459 people were injured. Another 128 are missing, but the number is expected to go up.

National Search and Rescue Agency personnel, the military and police have been dispatched to affected areas to evacuate victims. Fearing another tsunami, many residents and tourists were taking shelter in elevated locations.

President Joko Widodo, who was visiting South Sulawesi Province, expressed condolences to victims' families and said in a statement that he has "ordered all relevant government officials to immediately take emergency steps, find victims and treat the injured."

Saturday's tsunami was the latest in a series of natural disasters this year that struck Indonesia, a country that sits on the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire. Successive earthquakes killed hundreds on and around the tourist island of Lombok, while a combination of quakes, tsunamis and landslides led to the deaths of more than 2,000 on the island of Sulawesi in September.

The dead and missing from natural disasters in Indonesia this year had already numbered 4,231 before the latest tsunami, up markedly from last year's 378 and the highest in the past 10 years, data from the BNPB shows. Casualties rose despite the country experiencing less natural disasters than last year.

Officials warned that the victim count from Saturday's tsunami will likely rise. "The death toll, the number of people missing ... will continue to climb as search and rescue officers are still trying to reach areas where access have been blocked," BNPB spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a news conference on Sunday.

The tsunami was likely triggered by an eruption of nearby Mount Anak Krakatau in the Sunda Strait between the islands of Java and Sumatra. The eruption is believed to have caused an "underwater landslide," according to Nugroho, with the waves exacerbated by high tides from a full moon and bad weather around the strait. "This is a combination of natural phenomena, tsunami and tidal waves," the spokesperson said.

Officials say no tectonic activity had been detected, and the tsunami was not caused by an earthquake -- so no early tsunami warning had been released before it struck, unlike in cases where tsunamis have been triggered by quakes.

Many roads to affected areas have been blocked by building rubble and fallen trees swept by the tsunami, which hit around 9:30 p.m. on Saturday. The BNPB said hundreds of buildings have been destroyed, including hotels and homes, as well as hundreds of boats, many of them fishing vessels.

Worst affected was the western coast of Banten, the westernmost province of the island of Java, about 150 km from Jakarta. The area is dotted with beachfront hotels and resorts popular with local tourists enjoying the year-end holiday.

Among the victims are dozens of employees of state utility Perusahaan Listrik Negara, who were taking part in an employee gathering on the Tanjung Lesung beach. At least 29 people from the group were killed and 13 are missing, while more than 100 others were injured.

Footage broadcast by local television showed a tsunami wave sweeping a stage during local band Seventeen's performance at the PLN gathering. This killed its bassist and manager, the band said in a statement quoted by Reuters, and audience members. Other footage shows devastation caused by the tsunami, which also hit a district in Lampung Province on the southern tip of the island of Sumatra.

Mount Anak Krakatau began rising from the sea in the Sunda Strait in 1928 at where the Krakatau, or Krakatoa, volcano used to sit before it was obliterated in a catastrophic 1883 eruption that killed 35,000.

The Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation said that since the full body of Anak Krakatau, which literally means "Child of Krakatau," emerged in 2013, the highly active volcano has continued to grow in size. This year, it has been erupting since June and areas within a 2 km radius of the crater had been declared a danger zone a few months ago.

On Saturday, shortly before the tsunami struck, Anak Krakatau spurt out smoke that billowed up to 1,500 meters high. Footage of the volcano from Saturday also showed what appears to be a lava eruption. The volcano continued to rumble on Sunday, officials said.

"As long as Mount Anak Krakatau's activities keep increasing, we have to remain alert" for the possibility of another tsunami, said Rahmat Triyono, an official at the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, in a news conference on Sunday.

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