Around 373 people have been killed and more than 1,500 have been injured since a tsunami struck coastal areas around Indonesia’s Sunda Strait, between the islands of Sumatra and Java, last Saturday night.
The tsunami damaged or destroyed at least 611 homes, 69 hotels and villas, 60 small shops, and 420 boats, according to Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesperson for National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).
Almost 11,600 people have been displaced as a result of the tsunami. The district of Pandeglang on the western tip of the island of Java was the worst affected, with 207 killed and 755 injured.
Rescue teams used heavy equipment to clear debris from affected areas around the Sunda Strait on Monday, as thousands were evacuated from the affected region.
“The military and police are searching the ruins to see if we can find more victims,” said Dody Ruswandi, a senior official at the disaster agency, adding that the rescue effort was likely to last a week, as per a report in the Straits Times.
The ongoing rainy season could disrupt rescue efforts. “It’s already raining heavily and the winds are strong so we’ve only got a short timeframe to evacuate people and clean up,” said Indonesia’s public works minister Basuki Hadimuljono.
The Anak Krakatau volcano is located about 50 kilometres offshore in the Sunda Strait between the islands of Java and Sumatra. As this volcano erupted, it partially collapsed leading to an undersea landslide. This landslide is believed to have caused the tsunami.
Experts will not be able to determine the exact cause of the tsunami until sonar monitoring can be done, but it’s too dangerous to do that at the moment.
Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geological Agency (BMKG) said that the eruption took place at 9:03 pm local time (14:03 GMT) on Saturday, and the tsunami hit 24 minutes later. “At the same time, the tide was high due to the full moon, so it was a combination of two natural phenomenons [sic], the tsunami and the high tide,” a spokesperson for BNPB’s Nugroho, said in a statement.
The ring of fire
After molten rock poured out of the Anak Krakatau volcano, a series of underwater landslides occurred. Water was pushed up, which resulted in waves as high as three metres (10 feet). The Anak Krakatau volcano is situated in the Ring of Fire, an area known for its high tectonic activity.
Indonesia, the world’s largest island nation, was formed in part due the Ring of Fire’s volcanoes. Indonesia has more than 1,115 volcanoes in total, more than 125 of which are still active.
Indonesia on high alert
Rescue workers stepped up efforts to reach many areas that were devastated by the tsunami. Doctors have been working to help survivors while hundreds of people have been tirelessly searching debris-strewn beaches along the Sunda Strait for more victims.
Dozens are missing from the affected areas along the coastlines of western Java and southern Sumatra islands.
Reporting from Pantai Tumaritis, on the western coast of Java, Al Jazeera’s Andrew Thomas said officials were on alert of a possible recurrence.
“All Monday morning, there has been a low rumbling noise that occasionally peaks from the volcano some 47 km out to sea directly from where we are,” Thomas said.
He added, “With audio evidence that the volcano is continuing to erupt — it has been erupting on and off for months now, and Saturday’s wasn’t a particularly big one — there is a very real concern that there could be further tsunamis.”
More tsunamis feared
Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesperson at Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), warned on Sunday that more tsunamis could occur as long as the volcano remained active.
“We are cautioning the people to remain cautious,” Nugroho said. “Agencies are still continuing to analyze the root cause … the Krakatau volcano continues to erupt, which could potentially trigger another tsunami,” CNN reported.
Was Indonesia’s warning system inadequate?
Nugroho further said that Indonesia did not have an early warning system for landslides or volcanic eruptions.
“The current early warning system is for earthquake activity,” said in a tweet. “Indonesia must build an early warning system for tsunamis that are generated by underwater landslides & volcanic eruptions … [Landslides] triggered the 1992 Maumere tsunami and the Palu 2018 tsunami,” as per a Guardian report.
He added that Indonesia’s tsunami buoy network had “not been operational since 2012”.
“Vandalism, a limited budget, and technical damage mean there were no tsunami buoys at this time. They need to be rebuilt to strengthen the Indonesian tsunami early warning system,” Nugroho said.
The Sunda Strait tsunami isn’t the first time Indonesia’s disaster readiness has been criticised. In September, more than 2,000 people were killed after a tsunami and earthquake struck western Sulawesi, with many complaining that they were caught unaware.
Additionally, in July and August, a series of earthquakes ravaged the northern Lombok region, sparking landslides and destroying buildings, which resulted in over 400 deaths.
On Monday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered the country’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geological Agency (BMKG) to purchase tsunami detectors “that can provide early warnings to community”.
Predicting current tsunami beyond Indonesia’s ability: President
President Widodo claimed Saturday’s tsunami was beyond Indonesia’s currently ability to predict.
“Usually it was preceded by earthquake. That’s why the residents and visitors in Carita and Labuan beaches and Tanjung Lesung and Sumur beaches were not prepared to escape,” Widodo said, CNN reported.
Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geological Agency (BMKG) chief Dwikorita Karnawati said the agency has been planning to install tidal gates to detect waves near land. Karnawati admitted that the existing system was unable to predict tsunami warnings ahead of time.
“This (tsunami) is caused by several factors. Our censors did not sound early warning because they are for tectonic activity not volcanic activity. That’s why we are in coordination with other agencies such as the maritime and geology agencies,” Dwikorita said, as per the CNN report.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius.
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