IMAGE: TSUNAMI BODY TAKEN FROM RUBBLE
Dita Alangkara  /  AP
Rescuers carry the body of a tsunami victim in Pangandaran, Indonesia, on Wednesday. Jittery residents fled the resort town hardest-hit by Monday's tsunami amid unfounded rumors another killer wave was about to hit.
msnbc.com news services
updated 7/19/2006 7:41:42 PM ET 2006-07-19T23:41:42

Rumors of another killer wave sparked mass panic Wednesday in the resort area hardest hit by the Indonesian tsunami, while the death toll rose to 531, with more than 270 missing.  Earlier reports had put the toll at 550. The change was not immediately explained.

More than 1,000 residents of the beach town of Pangandaran fled inland, running, bicycling or driving amid shouts of “The water is coming!”

“People suddenly started running, so I joined them,” said Marino, 42.

It was unclear how the rumor started. Indonesia has no nationwide tsunami warning system and coastal residents had no notice of the onrushing wave Monday.

Several hours later, a strong earthquake off Java island’s coast caused buildings in the capital, Jakarta, to sway for more than a minute. There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.

Monday’s tsunami, triggered by a magnitude 7.7 undersea earthquake, smashed into a 110-mile stretch of Java’s coastline, which was unaffected by the devastating wave in 2004.

Waves more than 6 feet high reached 200 yards inland in some places, destroying scores of houses, restaurants and hotels. Cars, motorbikes and boats were left mangled amid fishing nets, furniture and other debris.

Amateur video aired Wednesday on Metro TV showed children playing in the surf and building sandcastles, followed by brief shots of a wall of black water bearing down on Pangandaran beach on Java’s south coast. The camera operator runs away amid the sound of screaming.

The region has been rattled by aftershocks, including Wednesday’s quake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.1. Suharjono, head of the earthquake division at Jakarta’s meteorological agency, told Metro TV that the temblor was not strong enough to trigger a tsunami, but he urged people to be on guard.

Mass burials
Ambulances with sirens blaring brought bodies to a cemetery in Pangandaran for a mass burial as hundreds looked on. As darkness fell, 24 unidentified corpses were tagged with numbers and laid in the ground, five children among them.

Police and army teams with dogs and mechanical equipment kept searching for survivors amid the ruins, but found only bodies, pushing the death toll to 531, said Maman Susanto of the government’s disaster coordinating board. Several foreign tourists were among the dead.

He said 275 people were listed as missing.

At the area’s main hospital, in the town of Banjar, medics treated a steady stream of patients, most from the Pangandaran coast. Some slept on dirty mattresses on the floor, while others were treated in the admissions hall.

Surgeons amputated the left leg of a women who was trapped under the ruins of her house.

“I thought I was going do die, but God gave me mercy so I can carry on with my life,” Tintin Rotiyani said from her hospital bed.

Warning issued
The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and Japan’s Meteorological Agency issued warnings of a possible tsunami about 15 minutes after Monday’s quake. The tsunami struck Java about 45 minutes later — before authorities had time to warn anyone on the coast.

Science and Technology Minister Kusmayanto Kadiman, who has said the government received both warnings but did not try to announce them, told el-Shinta radio Wednesday that the government’s meteorological agency in fact sent text messages to at least 400 officials. One of his staffers appeared on national television to warn of the tsunami, he said.

But Kadiman did not say whether the actions were taken before the tsunami hit, or whether the 400 officials lived on the threatened coastline.

Few warnings before the real thing
With no warning sirens or alarms on the beaches, it was unlikely officials even could have gotten the message to significant numbers of residents and tourists.

The quake was not felt by most people on the beaches. The first most people knew of the wave was when they heard screams of “Tsunami! Tsunami!”

Indonesia was the nation hardest hit by a 2004 tsunami that killed at least 216,000 people in a dozen Indian Ocean nations — with more than half the deaths in Sumatra island’s Aceh province.

The country started to install a warning system after that disaster and had been planning to extend it to Java in 2007.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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