Bali earthquake rattles, but does little substantial damage

Today's 6.1-magnitude Bali earthquake caused no deaths and only minor injuries, in part because of the better development standards the tourist industry has pushed, say observers.

Zul Eduardo/Reuters
A minivan is crushed by a chunk of concrete fallen from a building after an earthquake shook Indonesia's resort island of Bali October 13. Bali was struck by a 6.1 magnitude earthquake on Thursday, injuring dozens and sending tourists running out of hotels. The Red Cross said 43 people in the south of the island suffered injuries.

An earthquake rattled Indonesia’s popular tourist island of Bali Thursday morning, shaking up residents and tourists and injuring around 50 people. But the 6.1-magnitude quake caused no deaths.

The lack of significant damage is likely attributable to the island's relatively good development more than its disaster preparedness, which lags, despite frequent earthquakes, which prompted the creation of a disaster management agency.

The US Geological Survey reported that the quake’s center lay 62 miles south of Denpasar in Southern Bali, and 21 miles beneath the ocean floor. Although powerful enough to shake ceiling tiles loose and crumble the walls of Hindu temples, the jolt did not trigger a tsunami warning. A spokesman at a local hospital told the Associated Press that most of the injuries involved cuts, broken bones, and head wounds caused by falling debris.

Bali is one of the country’s wealthier islands. It is a popular tourist locale and hotels and large resorts dominate much of the island’s south. The tourism industry has heavily invested in building sturdy and roads in more urban areas.

However, central government officials have criticized regional governments for their lack of preparedness for natural disasters. According to a 2007 law, all of Indonesia’s 33 provinces are required to establish a local disaster management agency, but only around 20 percent of the the provincial governments have complied. Bali is one.

Still, after two separate disasters – a tsunami and volcanic eruption – struck Indonesia in October 2010, killing more than 700 people, the National Disaster Management Agency said Indonesia was still not well prepared.

“Indonesians tend to be risk takers,” Wisnu Wijaya, the director for disaster preparedness, told IRIN, a humanitarian news service affiliated with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “Disaster preparedness is not considered important, especially for people who are still grappling with poverty and a lack of education.”

After Thursday's earthquake, local news reported damages to scores of buildings, including schools and a large supermarket. Television footage showed uniformed children fleeing classrooms.

Many hotels have emergency evacuation routes and contingency plans for large-scale disasters, but an employee at the Sanur Beach Hotel in southwest Bali told the AP that people were so panicked they largely ignored the routes.

In the absence of more concerted government action, humanitarian aid groups have stepped in to conduct tsunami-training drills in schools. One community-based group in Sumatra supports a radio station that broadcasts disaster awareness programs, while surfer-supported group SurfAid International works to raise safety awareness and instruct communities on how best to respond during a disaster. It worked alongside Last Mile Operations last October to deliver supplies to the remote Mentawai Islands, where a powerful 7.7-magnitude and subsequent tsunami killed more than 430 people.

Today's temblor came a day after countries around the Indian Ocean tested a new UN-backed regional tsunami warning system, which was developed after the devastating 2004 tsunami that killed 230,000 people. The emergency response test included evacuation drills in India and Malaysia.

Indonesia sits amid a series of fault lines that are prone to frequent seismic activity. A rupture in the fault line off Sumatra sparked Indonesia’s last major earthquake in Padang in September 2009.

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