Rumors of New Tsunami Spark Panic in Java The rumor of another tsunami approaching the coast of Indonesia starts a mass panic Wednesday in the same area where a wave devastated coastal settlements Monday. That tsunami, triggered by an offshore earthquake, claimed more than 500 lives.
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Rumors of New Tsunami Spark Panic in Java

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Rumors of New Tsunami Spark Panic in Java

Rumors of New Tsunami Spark Panic in Java

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This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.


And I'm Noah Adams. Aid workers are rushing to Indonesia in the aftermath of a tsunami that killed more than 500 people on Monday. Though the wave was small in comparison to the tsunami in 2004 that killed more than 200,000 people throughout the Indian Ocean, the water swept away houses and hotels along more than 100 miles of coastline in Indonesia.

Alan Sipress joins us now from Ciamis, Indonesia, reporting for the Washington Post there. And he joins us. This number keeps rising. It's gone beyond 500. How high could it go?

Mr. ALAN SIPRESS (Reporter, Washington Post): I don't think it's going to go substantially higher, perhaps a few hundred more. The last that I heard, there's perhaps two or three hundred people who were still reported missing. But most of these communities are fairly small, close-knit places, and I think by now we'd have a pretty good handle on how many people are unaccounted for.

ADAMS: How deep did the destructive wave go inland along - we said more than 100 miles of coastline - how deep into the country?

Mr. SIPRESS: In fact, it didn't go in very deep. I was in the town of Pangandaran, which felt the brunt of the tsunami. And there, I'd say that the water only came in about a quarter of a mile.

ADAMS: And how high and how fast?

Mr. SIPRESS: The folks we talked to said that the water appeared to be even higher than the coconut palm trees that are along the beach there. That would put it at about 15 feet or more. But by the time it hit the buildings, it was substantially lower, perhaps 6 feet or 8 feet.

ADAMS: Now, in terms of the aid workers access to the damaged area, what's going on?

Mr. SIPRESS: The main issue with access is it's a fairly remote place. The road from the capital of Jakarta takes about eight hours on winding mountain highways. But once you're in the town, the area where the destruction took place is very accessible by road. And most of the people who have now fled the waterfront because they're afraid of another tsunami are up in the hills. They're staying in schools and in mosques and in other public buildings.

So access is not going to be that much of a problem. Perhaps the one other issue is that these are small roads, and they're getting clogged very quickly with aid trucks that are coming in.

ADAMS: That could be a difficulty. There was another smaller earthquake there, and there was fear of another tsunami, and people, I read, were saying the water is coming. And people were rushing inland. That could - as you point out - confuse the aid situation.

Mr. SIPRESS: Well, it was quite a sight. When I went back down to Pangandaran this morning, there were scores of people coming out of the town, up into the hills on motorbikes and in cars. Apparently, word had gotten out that another tsunami was coming, and that word had spread by mouth and by text messages on cell phones. And there were people waving to us as we were driving in, telling us, stop, go back. But, in fact, there was no other tsunami, and the water was not behaving any differently than it usually does.

ADAMS: Now, what about this: there was an official warning that was given to the government there, but somehow - about Monday's tsunami we're talking about now - somehow that word did not get to the coastline. What happened? There's no real warning system, no sirens, no horns going off?

Mr. SIPRESS: There is no official warning system in place along the island of Java. Indonesia has concentrated primarily on putting a system in place off the island of Sumatra. Sumatra, of course, is where the mega-tsunami of 2004 struck. We understand they wanted to extend the system to the island of Java sometime next year at the earliest.

But the government did receive warning. And reporters like myself in Jakarta had also heard the warning of a possible tsunami. What we haven't been able to figure out is why officials in the capital didn't pick up the telephone and call down to the military, the police or the local officials in the town of Pangandaran - tell them to go out onto the one beach road, get out of their vehicles and yell to the people, hey guys, there's a tsunami coming. That didn't take place, and we don't understand the reason for that.

But there's another element that also confuses matters. We're still not sure how much time transpired between the earthquake which triggered the tsunami and the actual tsunami itself.

There have been reports that almost an hour had passed, but I've been speaking to people down on the coastline who say it was only a matter of minutes. And if only minutes had separated the earthquake and the tsunami, then no kind of advance warning would have made much a difference.

ADAMS: Alan Sipress joining us from Ciamis, Indonesia. He reports for the Washington Post. Thank you, sir.

Mr. SIPRESS: Thanks for having me.

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