SUMUR, Indonesia (AP) – Christmas celebrations traditionally filled with laughter and uplifting music were replaced by somber prayers for tsunami victims in an area hit without warning following a volcanic eruption, leaving more than 420 people dead and thousands homeless in disaster-prone Indonesia.
Pastor Markus Taekz said Tuesday that his Rahmat Pentecostal Church in the hard-hit area of Carita did not celebrate with joyous songs this year. Instead, only about 100 people showed up for the Christmas Eve service, which usually brings in double that number. Many congregation members had already left the area for the capital, Jakarta, or other locations away from the disaster zone.
“This is an unusual situation because we have a very bad disaster that killed hundreds of our sisters and brothers in Banten,” Taekz said, referring to the province on Java island. “So our celebration is full of grief.”
Church leaders called on Christians across Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, to pray for victims of the tsunami.
The death toll climbed to 429 on Tuesday, with more than 1,400 people injured and at least 128 missing after the tsunami in the Sunda Strait slammed into parts of western Java and southern Sumatra islands on Saturday night, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for Indonesia’s Disaster Mitigation Agency.
He said more than 16,000 people were displaced and that there was an urgent need for heavy equipment in the Sumur subdistrict, a remote area near Ujung Kulon National Park that experienced heavy damage. Some villages there have been cut off due to damaged roads and bridges, making it difficult to supply aid and reach people who may be injured or trapped.
Unlike most tsunamis, this time there was no large earthquake to warn people to run to higher ground before the waves arrived. Instead, an eruption of the infamous volcanic island Anak Krakatau appears to have triggered a landslide on its slope, which then sent displaced seawater racing.
Residents remained jittery and fearful of lingering near the coast. In at least two separate areas Tuesday, panicked residents ran toward higher ground because they believed another tsunami was coming.
People in Sumur remained stunned by how quickly the tsunami hit without warning. Sumur beach, located just a few kilometers (miles) from the tourist island of Umang near Java’s western tip, is popular for snorkeling and other water activities. The tsunami clobbered the area, ripping houses from their foundations and bulldozing concrete buildings.
Scientists have said the tsunami’s waves were recorded in several places at about 1 meter (3.3 feet) high, but villagers in Sumur insisted they were more than 3 meters (10 feet) high there. They said a soaring white wall of water roared forward at high speeds, ripping trees out of the ground by their roots.
Tati Hayati, a housewife, said she was enjoying the full moon near the beach with 10 other people when the disaster hit.
“There was no sign of a tsunami when we were at the beach. The sea didn’t recede,” she recalled. “It was calm and bright with the full moon.”
When she spotted high, fast-moving waves launching toward the shore, she ran to her car and managed to get inside. But she couldn’t outrun it. The car was struck by three waves, breaking out the back window and filling the vehicle with gushing water.
“We were locked inside. The car was swaying in the waves and we thought we would all die,” she said. “We almost could not breathe and I almost gave up when I groped the key in the water and managed to open the door, and the water began to recede. We got out of the car and ran to safety.”
Military troops, government personnel and volunteers continued searching along debris-strewn beaches. Yellow, orange and black body bags were laid out where victims were found, and weeping relatives identified the dead. Many searched for missing loved ones at hospital morgues.
The lead singer of the Indonesian pop band Seventeen located the body of his dead wife after posting emotional posts on social media, vowing that he would not leave her. The group was performing at a beach hotel when the tsunami was captured on video smashing into their stage, killing several band members and crew.
The waves followed an eruption and apparent landslide on Anak Krakatau, or “Child of Krakatoa,” a volcanic island that formed in the early part of the 20th century near the site of the cataclysmic 1883 eruption of Krakatoa.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who faces what promises to be a tough re-election campaign next year, vowed to have all tsunami-detection equipment replaced or repaired.
Nugroho, the disaster agency spokesman, acknowledged on Twitter that the country’s network of detection buoys had been out of order since 2012 because of vandalism and budget shortfalls.
But the head of Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, Dwikorita Karnawati, said the tsunami was likely caused by Krakatau’s volcanic activity and so could not have been picked up by the agency’s sensors, which monitor conventional earthquakes responsible for more than 90 percent of Indonesia’s tsunamis.
Karnawati said the tsunami was probably caused by the collapse of a big section of the volcano’s slope. Anak Krakatau has been erupting since June and did so again 24 minutes before the tsunami, the geophysics agency said. Other scientists have said an underwater landslide may also have contributed to the disaster.
Indonesia, a vast archipelago of more than 17,000 islands and home to 260 million people, lies along the Ring of Fire, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.
The massive eruption of Krakatoa killed more than 30,000 people and hurled so much ash that it turned day to night in the area and reduced global temperatures.
Just this past September, thousands were believed killed by a quake and tsunami that hit Indonesia’s Sulawesi island. A quake on the island of Lombok killed 505 people in August.
Saturday’s disaster came ahead of the anniversary of the massive Asian tsunami that hit Dec. 26, 2004, after a magnitude 9.1 earthquake off Sumatra island spawned huge waves. The giant wall of water killed some 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Indonesia.