Rescue workers, officials debate warning system as Indonesian volcano erupts again
The responses to Indonesia's back-to-back disasters this week and revelations about the possibility that the warning system did not have proper upkeep highlight the difficulties in trying to put together an efficient disaster management system.
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Rescue workers 800 miles east of the affected tsunami region also scrambled to continue assisting the nearly 40,000 people displaced by the eruption of Mount Merapi, which blasted a second round of hot ash and debris on Thursday evening.
The responses to back-to-back disasters this week and revelations about the possibility that the warning system did not have proper upkeep highlight the difficulties the government faces in trying to put together an efficient disaster management system. Indonesia’s economy has been soaring lately, but it still struggles with widespread corruption and budget shortfalls that prevent infrastructure development.
Monitor List: World's 5 biggest tsunamis
No warning alarm
The 10-foot wave that followed a 7.7-magnitude earthquake near the Mentawai Islands failed to set off the alarm on an expensive alert system made up of buoys that one Indonesian official says were tampered with.
Ridwan Jamaluddin, deputy chairman of the government agency for the assessment and application of technology, told the Financial Times that the buoys have been vandalized several times and have had to be removed for repairs and that could be the reason why the the tsunami was such a surprise.
The news came as rescue workers got a clearer picture of the extent of damage on the remote Mentawai Islands. The wave that hit the island chain uprooted trees and swept wood and bamboo homes clean from their foundations.
IN PICTURES: Indonesia tsunami
Though surfers and other small organizations were already in the region and were able to provide immediate assistance, poor weather and the remoteness of the affected area meant government search teams only began arriving by sea and by air to the islands Wednesday.
Rescuers say the number of deaths is likely to keep rising as they search for the hundreds of people still missing. They say they believe many of the missing were swept out to sea, but other villagers may have fled inland to seek safety in the jungle.
Preparing for disasters
Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency released information to the government about the earthquake and possible tsunami almost immediately after the quake. “If the local government had taken action once they received the information, they could have reduced the number of victims,” said Wandono, the agency’s head.