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7.3 quake hits Indonesia again, but this time residents are better prepared

7.3 quake struck Indonesia early Wednesday morning, six years and one month after a devastating earthquake rocked Banda Aceh and South East Asia, causing tsunami warnings, but residents had escape routes planned.

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The UNDP frequently publishes information in local newspapers and hands out leaflets about disaster mitigation, says 20-something Rahmadi, who like many of his generation are less fearful of potential tsunamis than their elders. “Older people still don’t understand,” he says.

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The disaster management agency has an annual budget of $550 million for preparedness activities, disaster risk reduction, response, rehabilitation, and reconstruction, says its chief Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

That money has gone toward the formation of local-level disaster management agencies, trained volunteer disaster responders and helped create a disaster management plan and map demarcating high-risk areas. BNPD has also provided reconstruction equipment and logistical assistance to the province.

Mr. Nugroho says the reason yesterday's quake did not cause widespread damage is because its epicenter was far away from the mainland, and residents immediately responded by leaving their homes and heading to safer locations.

One witness told local reporters that about 100 people had gathered on a bridge in the city to check if there was any change to the surface height of the river, an indicator of a possible tsunami. In 2004 the sea off the coast of Aceh rapidly retreated after the magnitude 9.1 quake, and a wall of water swept over the city.

Still hurdles

Not all efforts at disaster mitigation have met with success, however.

In October 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake and tsunami near the Mentawai Islands, west of Aceh, stirred criticism of the government’s attempts to install a widespread warning system after an expensive alert that comprised ocean buoys failed. Indonesian officials later said fishermen had tampered with the technology inside the buoys. 

The recovery effort following the 2004 disaster also took considerable time in Aceh, a fairly remote province, and the site of a 30-year conflict between Acehnese separatists and the Indonesian military at the time of the tsunami.

But by 2010 the UN Development Program issued a report praising the rebuilding effort, calling progress there “remarkable.”

The meteorologic agency, which routinely issues tsunami warnings for earthquakes above magnitude 7, lifted its tsunami alert two hours after the quake. Local officials say there have been no major reports of damage or injuries.

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