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False rumor of another tsunami causes panic

Hundreds flee, but no 2d wave strikes

PANGANDARAN, Indonesia -- Rumors of another killer wave sparked mass panic yesterday in the resort area hardest hit by the Indonesian tsunami, while the death toll rose to 531, with more than 270 missing.

More than 1,000 residents of the beach town of Pangandaran fled inland, running, bicycling, or driving amid shouts of ``The water is coming!"

It was unclear how the rumor started. Indonesia has no nationwide tsunami warning system and coastal residents had no notice of the onrushing wave Monday.

Several hours later, a strong earthquake off Java island's coast caused buildings in the capital, Jakarta, to sway for more than a minute. There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.

Monday's tsunami, triggered by a magnitude 7.7 undersea earthquake, smashed into a 110-mile stretch of Java's coastline, which was unaffected by the devastating wave in 2004.

Waves more than 6 feet high reached 200 yards inland in some places, destroying scores of houses, restaurants, and hotels. Cars, motorbikes, and boats were left mangled amid fishing nets, furniture, and other debris.

Amateur video aired yesterday on Metro TV showed children playing in the surf and building sandcastles, followed by brief shots of a wall of black water bearing down on Pangandaran beach on Java's south coast. The camera operator runs away amid the sound of screaming.

The region has been rattled by aftershocks, including yesterday's quake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.1. An earthquake specialist told Metro TV that the temblor was not strong enough to trigger a tsunami, but he urged people to be on guard.

Police and army teams with dogs and mechanical equipment kept searching for survivors but found only bodies, including those of several foreign tourists.

Indonesia was the nation hardest hit by a 2004 tsunami that killed at least 216,000 people in a dozen Indian Ocean nations.

The country started to install a warning system after that disaster and had been planning to extend it to Java by next year.

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