LABUAN: Indonesian rescuers used drones and sniffer dogs to search for survivors along the devastated west coast of Java hit by a tsunami that killed at least 429 people.
Thick ash clouds continued to spew from Anak Krakatau, a volcanic island where a crater collapse at high tide on Saturday sent waves smashing into coastal areas on both sides of the Sunda Strait between the islands of Sumatra and Java.
At least 154 people are still missing. More than 1,400 people were injured and thousands of residents had to move to higher ground, with a high-tide warning extended to Wednesday.
Rescuers used heavy machinery, sniffer dogs and special cameras to detect and dig bodies out of mud and wreckage along a 100km (60-mile) stretch of Java`s west coast and officials said the search area would be expanded further south, following the discovery of washed away bodies. “There are several locations that we previously thought were not affected,” said Yusuf Latif, spokesman for the national search and rescue agency. “But now we are reaching more remote areas…and in fact there are many victims there,” he added.
Authorities said rescuers were working around the clock to reach six villages, currently inaccessible by road and where waves from the tsunami were believed to be as high as five metres. The vast archipelago, which sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, has suffered its worst annual death toll from disasters in more than a decade.
Earthquakes flattened parts of the island of Lombok in July and August, and a double quake-and-tsunami in September killed more than 2,000 people on a remote part of Sulawesi island. It took only 24 minutes after the landslide for waves to hit land, and there was no early warning for those living on the coast.
The meteorological and geophysics agency, BMKG, is asking residents to stay away from the shoreline by as much as 1 kilometre, due to the risk of extreme weather on Wednesday and waves up to 2 metres high. BMKG head Dwikorita Karnawati said on Tuesday the agency is worried about the rough weather making the volcano`s crater more fragile.
Experts warn that a second disaster remains possible. “Since Anak Krakatau has been actively erupting for the past several months additional tsunamis cannot be excluded,” said Hermann Fritz, from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Rescue efforts were hampered by heavy rainfall and low visibility. Military and volunteer teams used drones to assess the extent of the damage along the coast. Food, water, blankets, and medical aid are trickling into remote areas via inland roads choked with traffic.
Thousands of people are staying in tents and temporary shelters like mosques or schools, with dozens sleeping on the floor or in crowded public facilities.Ayub, a 20-year old fisherman sleeping with his family in a tent provided by the military, said conditions camp were not ideal due to the rain, but that they had enough food. “Everything is destroyed…My boat, motorcycle, house – all of it,” he told Reuters. “The most important thing is we’re alive.”
Other residents of the same emergency camp, like Tarini, a mother of four, told Reuters their families had been left with nothing but the clothes on their backs. “I`m sad for my children,” she said. “We want things to return to how they were, but we are afraid to return.”
At the nearby seaside town of Carita, which suffered some of the worst losses, local congregations held tearful Christmas vigils for victims. While many churchgoers have fled the area for fear of further disasters, some like Nikson Sihombing came from temporary evacuation centres. “We usually celebrate with joy and festivities, but with the tsunami, we can only pray humbly and not celebrate much for this year’s Christmas,” he said.
Destruction caused by the disaster was visible along the coastline where waves of up to 5 metres (6 feet) crushed vehicles, felled trees, lifted chunks of metal, wooden beams and household items and deposited them on roads and rice fields. Out in the strait, Anak Krakatau (Child of Krakatau) was still erupting and authorities imposed a 2km exclusion zone around it.
BMKG said an area of about 64 hectares (222 acres), or about 90 soccer pitches, of the volcanic island had collapsed into the sea. In 1883, the volcano, then known as Krakatoa, erupted in one of the biggest blasts in recorded history, killing more than 36,000 people in a series of tsunamis, and lowering the global surface temperature by 1 degree Celsius with its ash. Anak Krakatau is the island that emerged from the area in 1927, and has been growing ever since.
President Joko Widodo, who is running for re-election in April, told disaster agencies to install early warning systems, but experts said that, unlike tsunami caused by earthquakes, little could have been done in time to alert people that waves were coming.
51 dead as rainstorm lashes South Africa
Durban: South African authorities said that at least 51 people were killed, including two Zambian minors aged six and nine, after a rainstorm lashed the provinces of Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal here.
Scores have been wounded and more than 1,000 have been displaced, according to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“We want to commend rescue services at all levels of government for their rapid response. Resources have been mobilized and our teams on the ground have saved lives. More than 1000 people have been displaced and the government is providing shelter and support to those in need,” he tweeted.
“We thank the communities and individuals who risked their own lives to save loved ones, neighbours or strangers. We also thank the NGOs who are helping those in need by providing shelter, food and ablution facilities. I’ll be going to EC to assess the situation there as well,” he added.
The city of Durban was amongst the most affected areas, which faced flash floods and rainstorm.
The two Zambian children lost their lives after the roof of the house they were sleeping in collapsed, reports Xinhua. Their father sustained injuries and is currently receiving treatment, according to the Zambian embassy in South Africa.
Sri Lanka troops join hunt for bomb attack suspects
Colombo: Sri Lanka deployed thousands of additional troops countrywide overnight to help police hunt for suspects in the Easter Sunday suicide blasts that killed nearly 360 people, a spokesman said on Thursday.
Brigadier Sumith Atapattu said the army increased its deployment by 1,300 to 6,300, with the navy and airforce also deploying 2,000 more personnel.
“We are armed with powers to search, seize, arrest and detain under emergency regulations,” Atapattu told AFP.
“We are involved in static guard duties, patrolling and helping with cordon-and-search operations.”
The government also announced a ban on all drone flights and said licences issued to all commercial operators were suspended with immediate effect.
Police said they arrested another 16 suspects overnight with alleged ties to the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) extremist group accused of the blasts at three churches and three luxury hotels.
Police said about 75 people were now being interrogated in connection with the deadliest attack against civilians in the country’s history.
Sri Lankan authorities are also investigating a security failure to act on prior information about the impending Easter bombings by the NTJ.
President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the minister of defence and law and order, on Tuesday vowed a major security shake up with pledges to remove the heads of the police and armed forces “within 24 hours”, but there were no changes by Thursday morning.
Recriminations have flown since Sunday’s attacks and the country remained tense with many shops and offices closed and motorists staying off the roads.
Sirisena is due to meet with leaders of all political parties as well as religious leaders in two separate meetings on Thursday to discuss the situation.
Sunday’s bomb attacks were the first in the country since the Tamil insurgency ended almost 10 years ago in May 2009.
Aafia Siddiqui does not want to return to Pakistan: FO
Islamabad: Dr Aafia Siddiqui “does not want to come back to Pakistan” and reports of her possible repatriation are “mere chatter”, according to Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal.
Dr Faisal, in an interview with Independent Urdu, said that “she (Dr Aafia) will not come back. She does not want to come back herself, as per the information I have.”
The FO spokesperson said that the only way the possibility of Dr Aafia’s return could arise is if Prime Minister Imran Khan and US President Donald Trump met in the future.
In that case, “the exchange of Aafia Siddiqui for Shakeel Afridi could come under discussion,” he added.
Dr Aafia’s sister Dr Fouzia contested the FO spokesperson statement, telling Independent Urdu that “if anyone says that Aafia herself does not want to come to Pakistan, it is completely untrue.” She also confirmed that the consulate office in Houston had met Aafia last month.
Dr Fouzia further said that “at one point it had seemed as if Aafia was going to come to Pakistan any moment.” She said that she had been reassured by the government that negotiations with the US were ongoing and that “there will be a good news between January and March, but now silence has set in again.”
“Aafia told me on the phone that she is ready to sign any document, and that she only wants to get out of jail somehow,” Dr Fouzia was quoted as saying.
It is pertinent to mention here that last year, Dr Aafia’s sister, Dr Fouzia, had requested Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to take up the matter with the US.
The foreign minister had said that the issue of Dr Aafia’s repatriation was “being considered”, following which Consul General in Houston Aisha Farooqui had met Dr Aafia and urged the US to “respect her human and legal rights”.
When asked about Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman who was acquitted by the Supreme Court over blasphemy allegations last year, Dr Faisal said that “she is still in Pakistan but could leave soon”.
“It is inaccurate to say that she has already left,” he said. “She is at a safe location in Pakistan but when there is a court order in her favour, she should leave. In my opinion, she will leave soon.”
The FO spokesperson was also asked whether “the foreign policy is influenced by politics or other departments”.
Dr Faisal, in his response, maintained that the foreign policy is formed at the office of foreign affairs. “But the foreign policy is a combination of all policies, including financial, commercial and security issues,” he said. “This happens world over. A country’s security is linked with its foreign policy.”
In response to a question regarding the future of Pakistan- India relations, Dr Faisal said: “Pakistan has kept a positive attitude with India even in difficult times. Whatever new government is formed in India, Pakistan would like to move forward with peace talks.
“We wrote to the Indian prime minister in September 2018, and invited them for peace talks but have not received a response yet. Hopefully the newly elected government will reply to the letter.”