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Indonesian rescuers use drones, sniffer dogs as tsunami death toll rises

A tsunami survivor sits on a pile of debris Monday as she salvages items from the location of her house in Sumur, Indonesia. Copyright Fauzy Chaniago
Copyright Fauzy Chaniago
By Reuters with NBC News World News
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Indonesian rescuers used drones and sniffer dogs to search for survivors along the west coast of Java, where a series of tsunamis killed at least 373 people.


LABUAN, Indonesia — Rescuers used drones and sniffer dogs Tuesday to search for survivors along the devastated west coast of Java hit by a series of tsunamis 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 collapsed at high tide on Saturday, sending tsunamis 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.

Fauzy Chaniago
A tsunami survivor sits on a pile of debris Monday as she salvages items from the location of her house in Sumur, Indonesia.Fauzy Chaniago

Rescuers used heavy machinery, sniffer dogs, and special cameras to detect and dig bodies out of mud and wreckage along a 60-mile 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, spokesman for the national search and rescue agency.

"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.

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.

Authorities and experts 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 Dr Prof Hermann Fritz, from the Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States.

Rescue efforts were hampered by heavy rainfall and low visibility. Military and volunteer rescue teams used drones to assess the extent of the damage. One team used sniffer dogs to search for survivors at the beach club where a tsunami washed away an outdoor stage where the Indonesian rock band Seventeen were performing at a party for about 200 guests.

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

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 tsunami, and lowering the global surface temperature by one degree Celsius with its ash. Anak Krakatau is the island that emerged from the area in 1927, and has been growing ever since.

Ulet Ifansasti
Villagers walk through debris caused by a tsunami in Carita, Banten province, Indonesia, on Monday.Ulet Ifansasti

Saturday's high waves isolated hundreds of people on Sebesi island, about 12 km (seven miles) volcano.


"We are completely paralyzed," Syamsiar, a village secretary on the island, told Metro TV, calling for food and medicine.

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.

Food, water, blankets, and medical aid has started arriving in the area.

District chief Atmadja Suhara said he was helping to care for 4,000 refugees, many of them homeless.


"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."

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