Deadly Java Tsunami Caused by Slow-Moving Quake

Richard A. Lovett
for National Geographic News
July 18, 2006

A large 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck offshore of the Indonesian island of Java (map of Indonesia) yesterday, killing more than 300 people and forcing thousands of others to flee.

The temblor struck at 3:19 p.m. local time, when many people were on the beach. It generated a tsunami reported to have produced waves from 10 to 20 feet (3 to 6 meters) high.

The waves were much smaller than the monster swells of the tsunami that struck on December 26, 2004, which left more than 200,000 dead across several Indian Ocean countries including Indonesia (Southeast Asia tsunami full coverage).

Puji Pujiono is the regional disaster response advisor for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

"Rows of houses along the coast were swept away, [but] the waves did not go far inland," Pujiono told South Africa's Business Day news service.

"There was damage, not devastation."

Many Java residents recognized the danger and fled before the waves struck.

Nonetheless, the initially low casualty figures have steadily mounted into the hundreds.

Indonesia's tsunami warning system is still under development and is not scheduled to be operational on Java until 2007.

Comparing Quakes

The earthquake that created yesterday's tsunami bears similarities to the mammoth 9.3 magnitude temblor that sparked the 2004 disaster, experts say.

The primary similarity is that both quakes were caused by the collision of tectonic plates offshore of Indonesia.

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