How the Indonesian tsunami hit some villages, missed others

One of two stages at the Tanjung Lesung resort in western Java destroyed by the tsunami. This stage hosted a comedian, ‘Brother Jimmy’. He died in the wave.Credit:James Massola

But on Monday morning at 9am, the only visitors to this resort were the military, rescue workers and a platoon of ambulances.

Thirty-six hours earlier, hundreds of guests, including 300 workers from Indonesia’s state-owned electricity company, were watching the band Seventeen play and enjoying the resort’s facilities when the tsunami struck. On another stage, a comedian named Brother Jimmy who dresses like an Islamic preacher was performing his routine.

Footage taken by a member of the band’s audience of the moment the tsunami struck has gone viral globally.

The awful wave, rushing up to meet the camera, swept everything before it as it ended the lives of dozens of people in an instant.

The only member of Seventeen known to have survived is the singer, Ifan. His wife Dylan Sahara and the rest of the band are either dead or missing, along with their fans.

The comedian Brother Jimmy is dead too, as are many of those resort guests who were watching the show.

Now, at Tanjung Lesung, a twisted metal sign that advertises the name of the resort is all that remains in the spot where the stage once stood.

The location where the stage that Indonesian band Seventeen were playing when the tsunami hit.Credit:James Massola

The wreckage is everywhere.

Speaker cables twisted and broken; speakers thrown dozens of metres, piled up next to a swimming pool that is mostly empty.

Single shoes – one so small that it could only belong to a child of three or four years age – litter the grass.

Nearby, a chest of drawers, an empty crate of Bintang beer, a chair, a giant tree uprooted.

A sign advertising Tanjung Lesung beach resort. Credit:James Massola

Eric Khifari is sitting quietly, sobbing. He doesn’t want to speak, but his friend Yusuf explains what has happened.

"Eric is looking for his brother, Roy Khifari, who was the event organiser for Seventeen. We've been looking for him since yesterday but still haven't found him. Not even the KTP (ID card),” he says.

“Other members of the event organising team were found alive yesterday but not Roy. We have visited Pandeglang [a hospital nearby] yesterday, there was no information, we went there this morning and still no information."

The rescue teams go about their work quietly, for the most part, though the sound of a chainsaw occasionally rips through the air.

And every so often a shout goes up, followed by many more.

Another corpse has been found, and is rushed to a waiting ambulance, flesh already starting to fall off twisted arms and legs.

A gruesome discovery was made while the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age were on site on Monday morning. A small cellar, underneath the resort’s large swimming pool, where chemicals were stored, contained the bodies of five people, three men and two women.

Rescue workers pull a body out of a small cellar, underneath the Tanjung Lesung beach resort’s pool.Credit:James Massola

Fariz Apriyoko Hidayatullah, a commander of Artillery Field 5 Battallion from Cipanas, West Java, says, matter-of-factly, “They were running from the wave and they got stuck in the storage area”.

“Three of them came out easily, the other two were mixed up with cables and rubble. Basranas [the rescue agency] had to cut the cables first.”

“Rescuers only found 56 dead bodies yesterday (Sunday). I'm sure there were more than 50 people who were here when the band was playing. It must be more than 100 people."

Fariz doesn’t know how long he and his men will be in Tanjung Lesung, helping find bodies in the grounds of the resort and the nearby marshy fields.

One of the strangest things about the tsunami that hit this corner part of West Java is how random the damage has been.

A corpse is retrieved from the beach at Tanjung Lesung beach resort.Credit:James Massola

On the coast road that runs through here, a hard-hit village like Sambolo will be followed by three or more villages which – thanks to nothing more than their position on the coast, and the vicissitudes of fate – appear mostly unharmed.

The trail of destruction laid down by a tsunami is, in a way, like a bushfire – one house or one village can escape unharmed while the next village or even the next house can be smashed.

The pattern is nothing like the recent earthquakes in Palu and Lombok, which shook, damaged or destroyed just about everything in proximity to the epicentre.

So it is that the Tanjung Lesung Beach Resort lies in ruins, its guests dead, injured or missing while others have escaped with their lives and homes intact.

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