Recovery, rescues continue after Indonesia quake, tsunami

(Photo: Shutterstock)

A massive earthquake shook Indonesia last Friday evening, followed by a tsunami. As of Tuesday morning (Eastern Time) more than 1,300 people have been declared dead, including 34 Indonesian students who were found under a church buried by a mudslide. This is according to what the Indonesian Red Cross told the BBC.

Rescue crews are looking for survivors in the ruins of the four-story Hotel Roa Roa that collapsed with around 50 people in it. So far out of 12 people who have been recovered, only three were alive.

The epicenter of the 7.5-magnitude quake was off the central island of Sulawesi, 48 miles north of Palu. It set off a tsunami that engulfed the coastal city with 6-10 foot waves. This is where most of the deaths have occurred.

A damaged bridge, blocked roads, a partially closed airport, and broken communications systems have made it difficult to bring help into the area, reach remote spots, and search for more survivors. To make matters worse, Indonesia has suffered a series of aftershocks of at least 5.0-magnitude, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

Scientists don’t know why, but the tectonic plates in the Palu-Koru fault line that typically shift horizontally moved vertically this time, producing the giant waves. They say Palu was a worst case scenario for three reasons:

  1. Thick layers of sediment on which the city sits. Hamza Latief from the Bandung Institute of Technology says rock just shakes during an earthquake, but sediment moves around a lot more, behaving like a liquid. This leads to unstable foundations.

  2. Palu is at the end of a 6-mile long narrow bay, making it a sitting duck because of a bowl effect. Within three minutes the city was hit by three waves.

  3. The epicenter was relatively close to shore.

The country’s Tsunami warning system is being criticized. BBC reports that the head of Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency has said a key part of the system – a series of buoys connected to seafloor sensors designed to detect tsunamis – hasn’t been working since 2012 due to lack of funding.

The country’s meteorology and geophysics agency, BMKG, says a warning was issued shortly after 6 p.m. on Friday, local time. The agency denies allegations that the warning was canceled too early.

According to NPR, the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction says around 1.6 million people may have been affected the the earthquake and tsunami, and Chief Security Minister Wiranto says more than 60,000 Indonesians have been displaced.

The Central Sulawesi local government has declared a 14-day state of emergency, and the Jakarta Post reports that the country’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency, BNBP, has set aside $36 million (U.S.) in relief funds. VOA News reports that Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has authorized the acceptance of “urgent” foreign aid for humanitarian efforts in the affected areas.

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Nick Austin, Director of Weather Analytics and Senior Meteorologist

In his 17 years of weather forecasting experience, Nick worked on air at WBBJ-TV and WRCB-TV, including time spent doing weather analysis and field reporting. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from Georgia Institute of Technology. Nick is also a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” for eight consecutive years. Nick earned his National Weather Association Broadcasting Seal in 2005.