PANGANDARAN, Indonesia – Corpses were recovered Tuesday from beaches, homes and hotels ravaged by Indonesia 's second tsunami in as many years, pushing the death toll to at least 463. Nearly 280 people were missing.
The government, under fire for failing to pass on warnings about the impending disaster, vowed to quickly build an alert system across the country that straddles one of the world's most violent seismic zones.
Bodies covered in white sheets piled up at makeshift morgues, while others lay beneath the blazing sun in the tourist resort of Pangandaran, a 6-month-old baby among them.
The search for survivors continued Tuesday, with parents among the last to give up.
"The water was too strong," said Irah as she dug through a pile of rubble with her bare hands, close to the spot where she last saw her 6-year-old son. "Oh God. Eki, where are you?"
The magnitude 7.7 undersea quake on Monday triggered walls of water more than six feet high that crashed into a 110-mile stretch of beach on Java island, an area spared by the devastating 2004 Asian tsunami.
The waves destroyed houses, restaurants and hotels and tossed boats, cars and motorbikes far inland.
The death toll rose Tuesday to at least 463, according to the government, and with 280 more missing, the number was expected to climb.
"We are still finding many bodies. Many are stuck in the ruins of the houses," said police chief Syamsuddin Janieb.
Almost all the victims were Indonesians, but a Pakistani, a Swede and a Dutch citizen were among those killed, officials said.
At least 42,000 people fled their homes, either because they were destroyed or in fear of another tsunami, adding to the difficulty of counting casualties.
At the area's main hospital, in the town of Banjar, medics scrambled to treat a steady stream of patients, most from the Pangandaran coast. Some slept on dirty mattresses on the floor, while others were treated in the admissions hall.
Among the handful of foreign patients was Hamed Abukhamiss, a 40-year-old Saudi who was eating french fries with his family at a beach-side cafe when the tsunami came into view on the horizon.
His 12-year-old son, Yousif, saw the wave approaching through binoculars, but no one believed him when he yelled "Tsunami!"
Less than a minute later the family was swept away in the torrent of water, and Abukhamiss' wife and 4-year-old son were killed.
"I'll bury them here, but I will never come back," he said, crying in his hospital bed. "How am I going to tell my daughter her mother is dead?"
Monday's quake struck at 3:24 p.m. about 150 miles beneath the ocean floor, causing tall buildings to sway hundreds of miles away in the capital, Jakarta.
After the quake, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and Japan's Meteorological Agency issued warnings of a possible tsunami. It struck Java about an hour later.
Science and Technology Minister Kusmayanto Kadiman said Indonesia received the bulletins 45 minutes before the tsunami hit but did not announce them because they did not want to cause unnecessary alarm.
"If it (the tsunami) did not occur, what would have happened?" he told reporters in Jakarta, noting that there was no effective way to spread a warning without a system of sirens or alarms in place.
He said Indonesia now planned to speed up plans for a nationwide warning system.
Indonesia was hardest hit by a 2004 tsunami that killed at least 216,000 people in a dozen Indian Ocean nations — with more than half the deaths occurring in Sumatra island's Aceh province.
Though the country started to install a warning system after that disaster, it is still in the early stages. The government had been planning to extend the alert system to Java — which was hit by a quake in May that killed more than 5,800 people — in 2007.
Answering reporters' questions as to why no warning was issued on Monday, Vice President Jusuf Kalla claimed there was no need because most people had fled inland after the earthquake, fearing a tsunami.
"After the quake occurred, people ran to the hills ... so in actual fact there was a kind of natural early warning system," he said. However, of dozens of people interviewed by The Associated Press in Pangandaran on Tuesday, only one person said he felt a slight tremor. None said there was a mass movement of people to higher ground before the tsunami, though some residents recognized the danger when they saw the wall of water approaching.
Indonesia is on the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.