PANGANDARAN, Indonesia – The death toll from the Indonesian tsunami rose to 668 as reports of fatalities came in from remote villages along Java's battered southern coast, the government said. Another 287 people are missing and 74,100 have been displaced.
Five foreigners are among the dead and a French national is missing, he said Saturday.
A magnitude 7.7 earthquake triggered Monday's tsunami, which pummeled a nearly 200-mile stretch of coastline, destroying houses, restaurants and hotels. The six-foot-high waves tossed boats, cars and motorbikes hundreds of yards inland.
The death toll has climbed steadily in recent days, with police and army teams hunting for bodies in the ruins, while others took their search to the sea.
Some of the bloated corpses found in recent days were beneath a mangled steel bridge in Ciamis, just east of hardest-hit Pangandaran resort, he said. Others were scattered in villages on the other side, and a few more were found on the tiny nearby island of Ayah.
In Pangandaran, survivors and army troops lit massive bonfires Saturday to clear debris from the beach.
The government started setting up an early warning system after the 2004 tsunami that killed at least 216,000 people across the Indian Ocean rim, more than half of them on Indonesia's Sumatra island. But it is still in the initial stages.
Only two monitoring buoys have been installed, and a government minister acknowledged Friday that they had broken from their moorings and are now being repaired on land, underscoring the problems in maintaining the high-tech system.
Even if they had been operational, the buoys off Sumatra's coast do not cover Java island.
The government has come under fire, however, for failing to tell coastal authorities about bulletins from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and Japan's Meteorological Agency saying killer waves could be on the way.
Officials have given different explanations for the decision.
Sgt. Sudarman, a detective with the marine police in Pangandaran, said scores of lives could have been saved with even a few minutes' notice.
"We would not have been able to warn everybody, but we could have told those nearby and at least reduced the number of casualties," he said, adding that officers learned of the tsunami threat after receiving a phone call from reporters.
By then it was too late, he said. The water was already receding — a sign of an imminent tsunami — and they were able to save only themselves.