Hundreds of buildings were destroyed by the wave that left a tangled mess of corrugated steel roofing, timber and rubble at Carita beach, a popular spot for day-trippers on the west coast of Java.
Beachside cottages at one resort were flattened while the dining room’s mud-caked floor was strewn with smashed chairs and tables, utensils and spilled cups of ice cream.
In the lobby, a Christmas tree remained standing, surrounded by fallen holiday ornaments and toppled-over flower pots.
“The military and police are searching the ruins to see if we can find more victims,” said Dody Ruswandi, a senior official at the disaster agency, adding that the rescue effort was likely to last a week.
‘No time to evacuate’
Indonesia’s disaster agency initially said there was “no tsunami threat” even as the wave crashed ashore.
It was later forced to issue a correction and an apology as it pointed to the area’s lack of early warning systems.
Unlike those caused by earthquakes, which usually trigger alert systems, volcano-triggered tsunamis give authorities very little time to warn residents of the impending threat.
Experts say Saturday’s disaster was most likely caused by a moderate eruption of the Anak Krakatoa volcano in the Sunda Strait that triggered either a large and very fast moving flow of molten rock into the sea or a sudden and massive submarine landslide – both would displace large amounts of water, resulting in a tsunami.
The evidence so far suggested that a section of the volcano collapsed and slid into the ocean, triggering a tsunami, said Dwikorita Karnawati, head of Indonesia’s meteorological agency.