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Rescuers Search for Indonesia Tsunami Victims

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

JOHN YDSTIE, Host:

And I'm John Ydstie.

Hundreds of people have been killed on Indonesia's Java Island after it was struck by a tsunami. There was no warning despite efforts across the region to establish a warning system after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people. Java was largely spared by that tsunami.

Nate Cooper is a Red Cross worker. He's in West Java. Mr. Cooper, what's the situation there today?

NATE COOPER: Well, I got in early this morning after the tsunami - obviously, it hit last night about 4:30. Encountered quite a bit of destruction immediately. There's about a 500 meter swath all around the beach line where everything has been basically kicked up, torn apart, and thrown down. So there's fishing boats that have been broken in half, some that have been thrown through brick walls - motorcycles, bicycles, chairs, all sorts of personal belongings crumpled up and laying on the beach.

YDSTIE: And are people searching through the rubble right now for potential survivors or for victims?

COOPER: Yeah, they're still - search and rescue operations are still ongoing. The death toll is rising. The official PMI death toll only came in this morning is at 97 dead, and now it's up to 184 dead. I can only comment, obviously, on the small area that I'm taking a look at right now.

YDSTIE: And what area is that?

COOPER: It's called Pangandaran, and it's a resort community. Actually, it's a somewhat touristy community. These buildings that I was talking about that have been destroyed are actually fairly nice, well built buildings. And you can see where the ocean has swept in and blown out the first floor, taken all the walls out, and all that's left are concrete pillars.

YDSTIE: As I understand it, there was no official warning. But did people in the villages and resorts along the coast realize a tsunami was coming, or were they caught totally unawares?

COOPER: Yeah, it's interesting that you say that, because I had spent my afternoon in a camp of displaced people and talked to some of the families there about what warning they had or hadn't had. And as people started - once they felt the shake, definitely became alarmed. And a lot of people started moving inland quickly. So a lot of people got out, but unfortunately, a number of people didn't.

YDSTIE: How extensive is the rescue and recovery operation right now?

COOPER: Well, the Indonesian Red Cross has been on the ground since right after the disaster--they have a branch in this area I'm in--and they immediately mobilized volunteers doing search and rescue, as well as a feeding program. They've set up big soup kitchens and are feeding the people that don't have homes to go back to. The government's also very involved. The military is here, Army taking a big part in the cleanup efforts and also helping with search and rescue. So there's a lot of work going on.

YDSTIE: Are people going back to their homes, or are they staying away from the ocean front right now?

COOPER: Well, the government has put a three-day moratorium - I guess you would say - and cordoned off the area where the tsunami hit. So people can go in in the mornings, they can pick up their belongings, and then they take their belongings to the shelters and sleep in the shelters.

YDSTIE: Thanks, Mr. Cooper.

COOPER: Thank you.

YDSTIE: Nate Cooper is a Red Cross worker. He spoke to us from the Indonesian Island of Java, which was hit yesterday by a tsunami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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