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Low-key Christmas service as Indonesia toll rises

CARITA: A small Christmas service was held near a stretch of Indonesia’s tsunami-struck coastline on Tuesday, as panicked residents in one coastal town tried to flee after rumours spread that another deadly wave was about to smash into the coast.

It turned out to be a false alarm, but widespread fears about a repeat disaster − and warnings that clean water and medicine supplies were running low − rippled across the region as the death toll from Saturday’s volcano-triggered disaster topped 400.

Thousands more have been displaced, with many left homeless after houses were flattened by the killer wave.

The latest death toll stood at 429, with 1,485 people injured and another 154 still missing.

The powerful tsunami struck at night and without warning, sweeping over popular beaches on southern Sumatra and the western edge of Java and inundating tourist hotels and coastal settlements.

Indonesia’s disaster agency initially said there was no tsunami threat at all, even as the killer wave crashed ashore.

It was later forced to issue a correction and an apology as it pointed to a lack of early warning systems for the high death toll.

“The lack of a tsunami early warning system caused a lot of victims because people did not have the time to evacuate,” agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

The Krakatoa Observatory, which is monitoring the crater, warned that volcanic activity was still high.

“There is still a strong chance of an eruption,” said observatory official Kristianto.

The tsunami was Indonesia’s third major natural disaster in six months, following a series of powerful earthquakes on the island of Lombok in July and August and a quake-tsunami in September that killed around 2,200 people in Palu on Sulawesi island, with thousands more missing and presumed dead.

It also came less than a week before the 14th anniversary of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, one of the deadliest disasters in history that killed some 220,000 people in countries around the Indian Ocean, including some 168,000 Indonesians.