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.
(Page 2 of 2)
Though most have some sort of warning system, he believes tsunami-prone areas should have a warning plan in place that relies on preparatory drills and local knowledge. Wandono argues that a warning system should not serve as a replacement for the local knowledge and instincts that have served the island people for centuries. Locals should know the signs of an approaching tsunami, regardless of official warning bells and know to flee to higher ground.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Indonesia does have a tsunami alert system in place. After the 2004 disaster, international organizations helped set up a high-tech buoy network, which was up and running in 2008. But since then it has been plagued by problems, including theft and a lack of maintenance. The buoys contain electronic equipment that can tell if the sea level rises. Any major shift triggers a siren that is designed to give people time to flee to safety.
Yet, even if the system had been working, officials say the quake’s epicenter was so close to the Mentawais that the tsunami it generated struck the most affected island of Pagai Selantan within 10 minutes of when that alarm would have sounded. The buoy network is connected to a system that sounds an alarm immediately. But because many of the islands are sparsely populated and the alarm itself only reaches a short distance it requires someone to physically sound Mosque sirens and bells across the islands.
Monitor List: World's 5 biggest tsunamis
Meanwhile, at the Volcano
Rescue workers in Central Java say the government should have ordered people living on the slopes of Mount Merapi to evacuate earlier.
“The local government was a bit slow on [ evacuation],” said Fadli Usman, who is coordinating aid efforts for World Vision in Magelang, one of the four districts hit hardest by Merapi’s eruption. “People were evacuated after the volcano erupted. That’s why the communities when they moved to the evacuation centers didn’t bring anything with them.”
Usman said people need face masks and clean drinking water. Before Thursday evening’s blast volunteers had begun bringing down the dead and evacuating the corpses of animals to prevent disease.
Surono, head of the Indonesian Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Agency, said the pressure released from the volcano was much stronger than during the most recent blast in 2006, when two people were killed. So far Monday’s eruption has left more than 30 dead, including a respected elder known as the spiritual guardian of the mountain.
The agency tasked with responding to natural disasters meanwhile, says it has worked to provide relief as quickly as was possible given the weather and conditions. Soetrisno, the deputy for emergency management at the National Disaster Management Agency, maintains the central and local governments are capable of handling the relief effort, and though it would not turn aid away if it was offered, are not asking for outside help at this time.
IN PICTURES: Indonesia tsunami