Indonesia's president visits victims of tsunami

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Map showing location of earthquake

Indonesia's President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, visited the area worst hit by the tsunami that struck the Indonesian island of Java Monday afternoon. Mr Yudhoyono toured the small town of Pangandaran meeting people who were staying in a temporary camp. Many of them are too scared to return home after the huge wave killed nearly 550 people. The tsunami was produced by an underwater earthquake with a magnitude of 7.7 on the Richter scale.

At the camp, Mr Yudhoyono told one woman to "be strong". According to a relief worker, about 3,000 people have taken refuge at the site, but only about 500 of them have lost their homes. She said people are too scared to go home because they live on the coast, a sentiment shared by one woman who told AFP: "I did not lose my home, and my husband and child are safe, but we are still traumatised by the tsunami and are too afraid to return home in case another one comes."

West Java Governor Danny Setiawan told journalists that officials are persuading people to return home, and he said a return to normality "could take five to six years".

Aid workers are working to provide relief to the 15,500 people who have been left homeless as a result of the two-meter high wave. Yesterday, 15 tonnes of rice and 1,600 boxes of instant noodles were dropped, but some residents have said government assistance is necessary for them to regain their livelihoods. One woman told Reuters, "I don’t have anything, only 5,000 rupiah (£0.30, $0.55) in my wallet. The government should give us money to buy houses and a boat."

It is estimated over 300 people are still missing, and the army and police are using helicopters, boats and mechanical diggers in the hope of recovering survivors. Lieutenant Colonel Tri Yuniarta has told his 350-strong rescue team in Pangandaran to finish collecting bodies trapped under debris by next Monday.

The Indonesian government has been criticised for failing to inform residents that a tsunami was looming. After the underwater earthquake was detected, US and Japanese agencies issued warning notices, but the government has admitted it was unable to transmit the bulletins to coastal areas. Speaking yesterday, Mr Yudhoyono vowed to hasten efforts to build an early warning system planned after the 2004 Asian tsunami. "We want to expedite efforts to get infrastructure for the tsunami warning system in place," AP quoted him as saying. "I will work with parliament to get the budget".

Survivors have described the tsunami, which struck a 200km stretch of Java's southern coast. A Belgian tourist said he was in a beach side bar when the wave hit. "I saw this big cloud of dark sea water coming up to me".

Indonesia is situated on the Pacific Rim of Fire where 90% of the world's earthquakes and 81% of the world's largest earthquakes occur.