At least 62 deaths have been reported in Indonesia on Sunday after a tsunami struck the Sunda Strait overnight, with 584 injured and 20 missing, according to Indonesian government officials who expect casualty figures to continue to mount.
The cause for the tsunami remains unclear. The waves apparently struck without warning or earthquake tremors. Indonesian officials have denied that the cause for the tsunami was triggered by the nearby Krakatoa volcano, which has been erupting since June. There was speculation that the events were linked.
“Data collection is still ongoing. It’s likely that the number of victims and damages will rise,” said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for Indonesia’s national disaster agency, in a statement.
Over 400 buildings have been destroyed as waves slammed into the Sunda Strait, which separates Indonesia’s two largest islands, Java and Sumatra.
Beaches in the strait were reported heavily hit in places such as the Pandeglang regency, where 33 were reportedly killed, or several beaches like Anyer or the Tanjung Lesung.
Oystein Lund Andersen, a Norwegian witness who was on a family trip on the coast of the Anyer beach, wrote on Facebook that he was on a family trip when he saw the incoming wave. “Next wave entered the hotel area where I was staying and downed cars on the road behind it. Managed to evacuate with my family to higher ground through forest paths and villages, where we are taken care of by the locals. Were unharmed, thankfully,” he wrote.
Government officials are warning tourists against visiting the beaches near the Sunda Strait. “The national disaster agency and the geology agency are still investigating [the tsunami],” Nugroho said. Nugroho also added that heavy equipment and emergency soup kitchens have been prepared.
Indonesia’s volcanology and geology disaster mitigation center said there was an eruption of the Krakatoa on Saturday night. Although there was a “300 to 1500 meter” ash cloud reported above the crater’s peak, the center said, it was unclear whether the tsunami was directly caused by the eruption.
Igan Sutawijaya, a volcano and geological disaster expert, said the Sunda Strait is a disaster-prone area but the waves may not be directly linked to an eruption.
“My suspicion is that there was an landslide under the sea. Perhaps a trench crumbled,” he told The Washington Post in a phone interview. “It doesn’t make sense that it was caused by the eruption of the Krakatoa.”
Indonesia sits on the seismically active “ring of fire” in the Pacific Ocean.
The Child of Krakatoa, an island that emerged in the 1920s after the 1883 volcanic eruptions of the Krakatoa, hosts one of Indonesia’s most active eruption sites.
Saturday’s tsunami followed a string of disasters in Indonesia. Earthquakes and tsunamis have destroyed homes, killed and displaced thousands in areas such as the Lombok island in July and the Central Sulawesi city of Palu in September. It also followed a Lion Air plane crash that killed over 189 people. Experts have noted that Indonesia has experienced a disaster fatigue.