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A man grieves after identifying his relative among the bodies of tsunami victims in Carita Image Credit: AP

Jakarta: A tsunami in Indonesia’s Sunda Strait struck two of the country’s islands without warning, killing at least 222 people and injuring more than 700, officials said here yesterday.

Hundreds of buildings were destroyed by the three-foot wave, which hit the coast of southern Sumatra and the western tip of Java about 14.30pm GMT (6.30pm UAE time) on Saturday after a volcano known as the “child” of Krakatoa erupted, national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

No earthquake was recorded and no tsunami warning was issued, said Rahmat Triyono, earthquake and tsunami chief at Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency. “We don’t know what caused the tsunami yet,” he said.

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Search and rescue teams were scouring rubble for survivors, with 222 people confirmed dead, 843 people injured and 28 missing, Nugroho said. Tsunamis triggered by volcanic eruptions are relatively rare, caused by the sudden displacement of water or “slope failure”, according to the International Tsunami Information Centre.

Unlike those triggered by earthquakes, they give authorities no time to warn residents of the impending threat. Ben van der Pluijm, an earthquake geologist and a professor in the University of Michigan, said the tsunami may have been caused by a “partial collapse” of Anak Krakatoa.

‘Creating a rock slide’

“Instability of the slope of an active volcano can create a rock slide that moves a large volume of water, creating local tsunami waves that can be very powerful. This is like suddenly dropping a bag of sand in a tub filled with water,” he said.

Videos from the regency of Pandeglang in Java’s Banten province showed extensive damage. More than 400 homes, nine hotels and at least ten vessels were damaged or destroyed in Pandeglang, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesman for Indonesia’s disaster management agency, said on Twitter.

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Residents inspect a house destroyed by the tsunami in Carita. Image Credit: AP

The area hit by the tsunami is popular with tourists from Jakarta, the capital, and many people were at the beach on Saturday when the wave struck around 9.30pm (local time).

Rahmat said no tsunami warning had been issued because such warnings are prompted by tectonic activity and no earthquake had occurred. In September, an earthquake struck the island of Sulawesi, setting off an underwater landslide and tsunami that struck the city of Palu and surrounding areas. More than 2,100 people died.

Dragging victims with it

TV images showed the seconds when the tsunami hit the beach and residential areas in Pandeglang on Java island, dragging with it victims, debris and large chunks of wood and metal.

On December 26, 2004, an Indian Ocean tsunami triggered by an earthquake killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

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Debris surrounds a home destroyed by the tsunami in Carita, Indonesia Image Credit: AP

The eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 killed more than 36,000 people in a series of tsunamis. Anak Krakatoa is the island that emerged from the area once occupied by Krakatoa, which was destroyed in 1883. It first appeared in 1927 and has been growing ever since.

Saturday’s tsunami was the latest in a series of tragedies that have struck Indonesia, a vast archipelago, this year.

Successive earthquakes flattened parts of the tourist island of Lombok, and a double quake-and-tsunami killed thousands on Sulawesi island. Nearly 200 people died when a Lion Air passenger plane crashed into the Java Sea in October.

President Joko Widodo, who is running for re-election in April, tweeted that he had “ordered all relevant government agencies to immediately take emergency response steps, find victims and care for the injured”.

Neighbouring Malaysia and Australia both said they were ready to provide assistance if needed.