Indonesia quake kills at least 42, injures hundreds

By Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Stanley Widianto

JAKARTA (Reuters) – A powerful earthquake killed at least 42 people and injured hundreds on Indonesia’s island of Sulawesi on Friday, trapping several under rubble and unleashing dozens of aftershocks as authorities warned of more quakes that could trigger a tsunami.

Thousands of frightened residents fled their homes for higher ground when the magnitude 6.2-quake struck 6 km (4 miles) northeast of the town of Majene, at a depth of just 10 km, shortly before 1.30 a.m.

The quake and aftershocks damaged more than 300 homes and two hotels, as well as flattening a hospital and the office of a regional governor, where authorities told Reuters several people have been trapped under the rubble.

“Praise be to God, for now OK, but we just felt another aftershock,” said Sukri Efendy, a 26-year-old resident of the area.

As many as 42 people have been killed, mostly in Mamuju and the rest in the neighboring district of Majene, the country’s national disaster mitigation agency said in a situation report on Friday evening. More than 820 people were injured, it said.

The heightened seismic activity set off three landslides, severed electricity supplies, and damaged bridges linking to regional hubs, such as the city of Makassar. Heavy rain was also worsening conditions for those seeking shelter.

No tsunami warning was issued but the head of Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), Dwikorita Karnawati, told a news conference that aftershocks could follow, with a possibility that another powerful quake could trigger a tsunami.

There had been at least 26 aftershocks, she said, with Friday’s quake preceded by a quake of 5.9 magnitude the previous day.

Mamuju resident Muhammad Ansari Iriyanto, 31, told Reuters that everyone panicked and sought refuge in the nearby hills and mountains.

“Mamuju is now empty, everyone went to the mountains,” he said. “Lots of buildings collapsed and people are afraid of a tsunami.”

Another resident Syahir Muhammad said: “It’s raining and we need help.”

Videos shared on social media showed residents fleeing to higher ground on motorcycles, and a young girl trapped under rubble as people tried to shift debris with their hands. Rescue workers used cutting and lifting equipment to free survivors and find the dead.

President Joko Widodo offered condolences to the victims, urging people to stay calm and authorities to step up search efforts.

Emerging workers are now trying to restore telecoms and bridge links and ensure the delivery of tents, food and medical supplies, said West Sulawesi provincial government spokesman Safaruddin.

About 15,000 people have fled their homes since the quake, the disaster agency has said, with the coronavirus pandemic likely to complicate the distribution of aid.

“It is certainly one of the most challenging, this (disaster) was one of our fears and now we are putting all of that planning and protocols into place,” said Jan Gelfand, head of the International Federation of Red Cross in Indonesia.

Straddling the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia is regularly hit by earthquakes.

In 2018, a devastating 6.2-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami struck the city of Palu, in Sulawesi, killing thousands.

A 9.1-magnitude quake off the north of Sumatra island triggered a tsunami on Boxing Day in 2004 that lashed coastal areas of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and nine other nations, killing more than 230,000 people.

(Additional reporting by Angie Teo; Additional reporting by Yishu Ng in Singapore added as Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Clarence Fernandez and Alison Williams)

Indonesia resumes search for victims, black box of crashed Sriwijaya jet

By Bernadette Christina Munthe and Agustinus Beo Da Costa

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian divers resumed a search on Thursday for the remains of 62 victims and the cockpit voice recorder from a Sriwijaya Air plane that plunged into the Java Sea soon after takeoff last weekend, officials said.

The search at the crash site of the Boeing 737-500, which was traveling from Jakarta to Pontianak, had been temporarily suspended on Wednesday after bad weather whipped up high waves.

A team of divers recovered one of the plane’s black boxes, the flight data recorder (FDR), from the seabed earlier this week and efforts were underway on Thursday to retrieve the cockpit voice recorder (CVR).

With the cause of the fatal crash of the nearly 27-year-old plane unclear, investigators will rely heavily on the black boxes to determine what caused it to lose control minutes after take-off.

Indonesia National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) head Soerjanto Tjahjono told Reuters the FDR information was still being processed and a preliminary report would be published within 30 days of the crash in line with international standards.

Tempo newspaper on Thursday reported the plane had experienced recurring problems with the autothrottle system that automatically controls the engine power settings since returning from storage last month. Sriwijaya did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Tjahjono said if the autothrottle system was not working, the pilots could control the settings manually with their hands.

An airline pilot who was not authorized to speak publicly said it was considered acceptable for a plane to fly when the autothrottle system was not working, though it would increase the pilot workload and could prove distracting in an emergency situation.

Most air accidents are typically caused by a range of factors that can take months to establish, according to safety experts.

The Sriwijaya crash is the biggest airline disaster in Indonesia since 189 people were killed onboard a Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX that plunged into the Java Sea minutes after take-off in 2018.

(Additional reporting by Stanley Widianto in Jakarta and Jamie Freed in Sydney; Writing by Kate Lamb and Jamie Freed, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Indonesia retrieves crashed Sriwijaya Air plane’s flight data recorder

By Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Fransiska Nangoy

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian divers on Tuesday retrieved from the sea bed the flight data recorder (FDR) of a Sriwijaya Air plane that crashed into the Java Sea with 62 people on board at the weekend, officials said.

Divers had also found a separate radio beacon, raising hopes that the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) it was connected to could soon be found and reveal what caused the plane to lose control moments after takeoff.

“We are sure that, because the beacon that was attached to the cockpit voice recorder was also found around the area, so with high confidence, the cockpit voice recorder will soon be found,” military chief Hadi Tjahjanto said at a news conference.

With few immediate clues on what happened after takeoff, investigators will rely heavily on the flight recorders to determine what went wrong.

The Boeing 737-500 plane plunged into the sea on Saturday, four minutes after it departed from Jakarta’s main airport and disappeared off radar screens.

It was the second major air crash in Indonesia since 189 people were killed in 2018 when a Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX plunged into the Java Sea soon after taking off from Jakarta. The jet that crashed on Saturday was of a largely different design.

The National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) expects to download the FDR data within two to five days, its chief Soerjanto Tjahjono said.

‘UNVEIL THE MYSTERY’

“Hopefully we will be able to unveil the mystery of what caused this accident … so this becomes a lesson for all of us to avoid this in the future,” Soerjanto said.

Earlier on Tuesday, more human remains were found at the crash site, as well as personal effects, such as wallets containing identification cards.

The plane had been headed to Pontianak on Borneo island, about 740 km (460 miles) from Jakarta.

The KNKT’s initial findings showed the plane’s engine was running when it hit the water, based on jet parts retrieved from the sea.

“The damage on the fan blade showed that the engine was still working on impact. This is consistent with the hypothesis that the plane’s system was still working at 250 feet altitude,” Soerjanto said.

Indonesia’s transport ministry said earlier on Tuesday the jet, which was grounded during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, had passed an airworthiness inspection on Dec. 14 and had returned to service shortly after.

The Sriwijaya Air plane was nearly 27 years old, much older than Boeing’s problem-plagued 737 MAX model.

Older 737 models are widely flown and do not have the stall-prevention system implicated in the MAX safety crisis.

(Additional reporting by Tabita Diela; Writing by Ed Davies and Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Martin Petty and Bernadette Baum)

Indonesia names first plane crash victim, steps up ‘black box’ hunt

By Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Yuddy Cahya Budiman

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia identified a victim from the Sriwijaya Air crash on Monday as emergency crews prepared to send in a remotely operated underwater vehicle to search for the jet’s cockpit recorders in the sea.

The Boeing 737-500 plane with 62 people on board plunged into the Java Sea two days ago, minutes after taking off from Jakarta’s main airport.

Divers scoured the sea bed on Monday, retrieving human remains, personal possessions and pieces of plane wreckage until fading light ended the search, emergency officials said.

Okky Bisma, a flight attendant on the plane, was identified by his fingerprints, a police official told reporters

“The quicker we can find victims, the better,” search and rescue operation director Rasman MS said.

The Boeing 737-500 jet was headed on a domestic flight to Pontianak on Borneo island, about 460 miles from Jakarta, on Saturday before it disappeared from radar screens.

It was the second major air crash in Indonesia since 189 passengers and crew were killed in 2018 when a Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX also plunged into the Java Sea soon after taking off. The jet that crashed on Saturday is a largely different design.

The search team had narrowed down the suspected location of the “black box” flight recorders and the remote-controlled vehicle would help scan the sea bed, navy chief of staff Yudo Margono said.

“There is so much debris down there and we have only lifted a few pieces. Hopefully, as we take out more they (the recorders) can be found,” Yudo told reporters aboard a ship.

Nurcahyo Utomo, an investigator at Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT), said the jet may have been intact before it hit the water, given the debris appeared to have scattered in a relatively tight area underwater.

PROBE TO RELY ON DATA RECORDERS

Once the flight data and cockpit voice recorders are found, the KNKT expects to be able to read the information in three days, Nurcahyo said.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board will automatically be involved in the investigation, with technical support from Boeing as needed.

Tracking service Flightradar24 said the aircraft took off at 2:36 p.m. local time (0736 GMT) and climbed to 10,900 feet within four minutes. It then began a steep descent and stopped transmitting data 21 seconds later.

The Sriwijaya Air plane was nearly 27 years old, much older than Boeing’s problem-plagued 737 MAX model. Older 737 models are widely flown and do not have the stall-prevention system implicated in the MAX safety crisis.

With few immediate clues on what caused a catastrophic loss of control after take-off, investigators will rely heavily on retrieving the two flight recorders intact from the seabed.

They will also study maintenance and engine records, pilot rosters and training, air traffic recordings and other data.

Newer jets and their engines emit streams of data to help airlines plan maintenance. But neither the 737-500 nor its engines leave such a digital trace, industry experts say.

The crash comes at a sensitive time and place for Boeing after poor software contributed to crashes of the newer 737 MAX in Indonesia and Ethiopia. But the long service history of the model involved in Saturday’s crash, and its lack of similar software, mean design is seen less likely to be a primary focus.

(Additional reporting by Tim Hepher, Jamie Freed and Tabita Diela; Writing by Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Ed Davies, Michael Perry, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Andrew Heavens)

U.S. ends Boeing 737 MAX flight ban after crash probes

By David Shepardson and Eric M. Johnson

WASHINGTON/SEATTLE (Reuters) – After nearly two years of scrutiny, corporate upheaval and a standoff with global regulators, Boeing Co won approval on Wednesday from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to fly its 737 MAX jet again after two fatal disasters.

The FAA detailed software upgrades and training changes Boeing must make in order for it to resume commercial flights after a 20-month grounding, the longest in commercial aviation history.

The 737 MAX crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people within five months in 2018 and 2019 and triggered a hailstorm of investigations, frayed U.S. leadership in global aviation and cost Boeing some $20 billion.

The U.S. plane maker’s best-selling jet will resume commercial service facing strong headwinds from a resurgent coronavirus pandemic, new European trade tariffs and mistrust of one of the most scrutinized brands in aviation.

Families of the Ethiopian crash victims said in a statement on Wednesday that they felt “sheer disappointment and renewed grief” following the FAA’s decision to return the aircraft to service.

“Our family was broken,” Naoise Ryan, whose 39-year-old husband died aboard Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, said on Tuesday.

The 737 MAX is a re-engined upgrade of a jet first introduced in the 1960s. Single-aisle jets like the MAX and rival Airbus A320neo are workhorses that dominate global fleets and provide a major source of industry profit.

Of the U.S. airlines with 737 MAX jets, American Airlines plans to relaunch the first commercial MAX flight since the grounding on Dec. 29, followed by United Airlines in the first quarter of 2021 and Southwest Airlines in the second quarter next year.

Leading regulators in Europe, Brazil and China must issue their own approvals for their airlines after independent reviews, illustrating how the 737 MAX crashes upended a once U.S.-dominated airline safety system in which nations large and small for decades moved in lock-step with the FAA.

When it does fly, Boeing will be running a 24-hour war room to monitor all MAX flights for issues that could impact the jet’s return, from stuck landing gear to health emergencies, three people familiar with the matter said.

Shares jumped in premarket trading and were on track for their highest level since June.

LONG RUNWAY AHEAD

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson signed an order lifting the flight ban early on Wednesday and the agency released an airworthiness directive detailing the required changes.

“We’ve done everything humanly possible to make sure” these types of crashes do not happen again, Dickson told Reuters, saying he felt “100% confident” in the plane’s safety.

The FAA is requiring new pilot training and software upgrades to deal with a stall-prevention system called MCAS, which in both crashes repeatedly and powerfully shoved down the jet’s nose as pilots struggled to regain control.

The FAA, which has faced accusations of being too close to Boeing in the past, said it would no longer allow Boeing to sign off on the airworthiness of some 450 737 MAXs built and parked during the flight ban. It plans in-person inspections that could take a year or more to complete, prolonging the jets’ delivery.

Boeing is scrambling to keep up maintenance and find new buyers for many of its mothballed 737 MAXs after receiving cancellations from their original buyers. Demand is further sapped by the coronavirus crisis.

Even with all the hurdles, resuming deliveries of the 737 MAX will open up a crucial pipeline of cash for Boeing and hundreds of parts suppliers whose finances were strained by production cuts linked to the jet’s safety ban.

Numerous reports have faulted Boeing and the FAA on the plane’s development. A U.S. House of Representatives report in September said Boeing failed in its design and development of the MAX, and the FAA failed in its oversight and certification.

It also criticized Boeing for withholding crucial information from the FAA, its customers, and pilots including “concealing the very existence of MCAS from 737 MAX pilots.”

The chief executive of Boeing urged staff to speak up whenever they see behavior going against values of safety, quality and integrity. “We have implemented a series of meaningful changes to strengthen the safety practices and culture of our company,” Dave Calhoun told employees in a letter.

The House on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill to reform how the FAA certifies airplanes, while a Senate panel is to consider a similar bill on Wednesday.

Boeing faces lawsuits from crash victim families.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle, Tracy Rucinski in Chicago, David Shepardson in Washington, Allison Lampert in Montreal and Jamie Freed in Sydney; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Nick Zieminski)

Coronavirus deaths rise above a million in ‘agonizing’ global milestone

By Jane Wardell

(Reuters) – The global coronavirus death toll rose past a million on Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally, a grim statistic in a pandemic that has devastated the global economy, overloaded health systems and changed the way people live.

The number of deaths from the novel coronavirus this year is now double the number of people who die annually from malaria – and the death rate has increased in recent weeks as infections surge in several countries.

“Our world has reached an agonizing milestone,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

“It’s a mind-numbing figure. Yet we must never lose sight of each and every individual life. They were fathers and mothers, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues.”

It took just three months for COVID-19 deaths to double from half a million, an accelerating rate of fatalities since the first death was recorded in China in early January.

More than 5,400 people are dying around the world every 24 hours, according to Reuters calculations based on September averages, overwhelming funeral businesses and cemeteries.

That equates to about 226 people an hour, or one person every 16 seconds. In the time it takes to watch a 90-minute soccer match, 340 people die on average.

(Reuters interactive graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2VqS5PS)

“So many people have lost so many people and haven’t had the chance to say goodbye,” World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman Margaret Harris told a U.N. briefing in Geneva.

“…Many, many of the people who died died alone in medical circumstances where it’s a terribly difficult and lonely death.”

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the world had to unite to fight the virus.

“History will judge us on the decisions we do and don’t make in the months ahead,” he said in the Independent newspaper.

INFECTIONS RISING

Experts remain concerned that the official figures for deaths and cases globally significantly under-represent the real tally because of inadequate testing and recording and the possibility of concealment by some countries.

The response to the pandemic has pitted proponents of health measures like lockdowns against those intent on sustaining politically sensitive economic growth, with approaches differing from country to country.

The United States, Brazil and India, which together account for nearly 45% of all COVID-19 deaths globally, have all lifted social distancing measures in recent weeks.

“The American people should anticipate that cases will rise in the days ahead,” U.S. Vice President Mike Pence warned on Monday. U.S. deaths stood at 205,132 and cases at 7.18 million by late Monday.

India, meanwhile, has recorded the highest daily growth in infections in the world, with an average of 87,500 new cases a day since the beginning of September.

On current trends, India will overtake the United States as the country with the most confirmed cases by the end of the year, even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government pushes ahead with easing lockdown measures in a bid to support a struggling economy.

Despite the surge in cases, India’s death toll of 96,318, and pace of growth of fatalities, remains below those of the United States, Britain and Brazil. India on Tuesday reported its smallest rise in deaths since Aug. 3, continuing a recent easing trend that has baffled experts.

In Europe, which accounts for nearly 25% of deaths, the WHO has warned of a worrying spread in western Europe just weeks away from the winter flu season.

The WHO has also warned the pandemic still needs major control interventions amid rising cases in Latin America, where many countries have started to resume normal life.

Much of Asia, the first region affected by the pandemic, is experiencing a relative lull after emerging from a second wave.

The high number of deaths has led to changes burial rites around the world, with morgues and funeral businesses overwhelmed and loved ones often barred from bidding farewell in person.

In Israel, the custom of washing the bodies of Muslim deceased is not permitted, and instead of being shrouded in cloth, they must be wrapped in a plastic body bag. The Jewish tradition of Shiva where people go to the home of mourning relatives for seven days has also been disrupted.

In Italy, Catholics have been buried without funerals or a blessing from a priest, while in Iraq former militiamen dropped their guns to dig graves at a specially created cemetery and learned how to conduct both Christian and Muslim burials.

In some parts of Indonesia, bereaved families have barged into hospitals to claim bodies, fearing their relatives might not be given a proper burial.

The United States, Indonesia, Bolivia, South Africa and Yemen have all had to locate new burial sites as cemeteries fill up.

(Reporting by Jane Wardell; additional reporting by Shaina Ahluwalia, Seerat Gupta and Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

Senate panel to take up FAA aircraft certification reform bill

By David Shepardson

(Reuters) – The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on Sept. 16 will hold a hearing to consider a bill to strengthen U.S. oversight of aircraft certification following two fatal Boeing Co. 737 MAX crashes.

The measure seeks to eliminate the ability of aircraft makers like Boeing to unduly influence the certification process. It marks the most significant step toward reforms following the 2018 and 2019 crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people and sparked demands to change how the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approves new airplanes.

Boeing and the FAA did not immediately comment.

U.S. Senate Commerce Committee chair Roger Wicker, a Republican, and ranking member Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, introduced the proposal in June that would grant the FAA new power over the long-standing practice of delegating some certification tasks to aircraft manufacturer employees. It would give the agency authority to hire or remove Boeing employees conducting FAA certification tasks and allow the FAA to appoint safety advisers.

Boeing is still working to win regulatory approvals to resume commercial service of its 737 MAX since the plane was grounded worldwide in March 2019, plunging the Chicago-based company into a crisis since compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Boeing also faces lawsuits and an ongoing criminal probe.

The Senate legislation would grant new whistleblower protections to workers at airplane and parts manufacturers. It would also require the FAA to create a new safety reporting system for employees to detail concerns anonymously.

While victims’ family members applauded proposed reforms, they are also demanding that critical aircraft systems – like the MCAS flight control system linked to both crashes – be approved by the FAA, not just Boeing, and that manufacturers be required to re-certify new aircraft derived from earlier models.

Representative Peter DeFazio, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told Reuters in July he planned to introduce FAA certification reform legislation in September, saying the Senate bill was a good start but did not go far enough.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Franklin Paul and Chizu Nomiyama)

Pompeo likely to visit U.N. on Thursday in pursuit of sanctions on Iran: diplomats

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will likely travel to New York on Thursday to seek a return of all U.N. sanctions on Iran and meet with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, diplomats and a U.N. official said.

To trigger a return of the sanctions, the United States will submit a complaint to the 15-member U.N. Security Council about Iran’s non-compliance with the nuclear deal, even though Washington quit the accord in 2018.

Pompeo will likely meet with Indonesia’s U.N. Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani, the Security Council president for August, to submit the complaint, diplomats said. Pompeo is also due to meet with Guterres, a U.N. official said.

In response to what the United States calls its “maximum pressure” campaign – a bid to get Iran to negotiate a new deal – Tehran has breached several central limits of the 2015 deal, including on its stock of enriched uranium.

But diplomats say the sanctions snapback process will be tough and messy as Russia, China and other countries on the Security Council challenge the legality of the U.S. move given that Washington itself is no longer complying with what Trump called the “worst deal ever” and has imposed unilateral sanctions on Iran.

The United States had threatened to use the sanctions snapback provision in the nuclear deal after it lost a bid in the Security Council on Friday to extend an arms embargo on Tehran, which is due to expire in October.

Once Washington submits its complaint about Iran to the Security Council, the body has 30 days to adopt a resolution to extend sanctions relief for Tehran or else the measures will automatically snapback. Any attempt to extend the sanctions relief would be vetoed by the United States.

The U.S. mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Google turns Android phones into earthquake sensors; California to get alerts

By Paresh Dave

OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google’s Android phones on Tuesday started detecting earthquakes around the world to provide data that could eventually give billions of users precious seconds of warning of a tremor nearby, with an alerting feature first rolling out in California.

Japan, Mexico and California already use land-based sensors to generate warnings, aiming to cut injuries and property damage by giving people further away from the epicenter of an earthquake seconds to protect themselves before the shaking starts.

If Google’s approaches for detecting and alerting prove effective, warnings would reach more people, including for the first time Indonesia and other developing countries with few traditional sensors.

Seismology experts consulted by Google said turning smartphones into mini-seismographs marked a major advancement, despite the inevitably of erroneous alerts from a work in progress, and the reliance on a private company’s algorithms for public safety. More than 2.5 billion devices, including some tablets, run Google’s Android operating system.

“We are on a path to delivering earthquake alerts wherever there are smartphones,” said Richard Allen, director of University of California Berkeley’s seismological lab and visiting faculty at Google over the last year.

Google’s program emerged from a week-long session 4-1/2 years ago to test whether the accelerometers in phones could detect car crashes, earthquakes and tornadoes, said principal software engineer Marc Stogaitis.

Accelerometers – sensors that measure direction and force of motion – are mainly used to determine whether a user is holding a phone in landscape or portrait mode.

The company studied historical accelerometer readings during earthquakes and found they could give some users up to a minute of notice.

Android phones can currently separate earthquakes from vibrations caused by thunder or the device dropping only when the device is charging, stationary and has user permission to share data with Google.

If phones detect an earthquake, they send their city-level location to Google, which can triangulate the epicenter and estimate the magnitude with as few as several hundred reports, Stogaitis said.

The system will not work in regions including China where Google’s Play Services software is blocked.

Google expects to issue its first alerts based on accelerometer readings next year. It also plans to feed alerts for free to businesses that want to automatically shut off elevators, gas lines and other systems before the shaking starts.

To test its alerting abilities, Google is drawing in California from traditional government seismograph readings to alert Android users about earthquakes, similar to notifications about kidnappings or flooding.

People expected to experience strong shaking would hear a loud dinging and see a full-screen advisement to drop, cover and hold on, Stogaitis said. Those further away would get a smaller notification designed not to stir them from their sleep, while people too close to be warned will get information about post-quake safety, such as checking gas valves.

Alerts will trigger for earthquakes magnitude 4.5 or greater, and no app download is necessary.

MyShake, an app launched by Allen’s Berkeley lab last year to provide Californians warnings and let them report damage, has drawn 1 million downloads.

Stogaitis also said Google has not discussed its plans with Apple Inc, whose competitor to Android comprises half the market in countries including the United States.

Apple was not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Additional reporting by Nathan Frandino; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Indonesia seeds clouds to keep them away from flooded capital

By Bernadette Christina and Jessica Damiana

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s air force seeded clouds with salt on Friday to try to stop rainfall reaching the slowing sinking capital after deadly flash floods and landslides triggered by some of the heaviest rain ever recorded.

The death toll in Jakarta and surrounding areas rose to 43 as of Friday, the disaster mitigation agency said, while tens of thousands of people have been displaced.

Indonesia’s technology agency BPPT and the air force carried out three rounds of cloud seeding on Friday, with more expected when needed, a BPPT official said.

The seeding, shooting salt flares in an attempt to trigger rainfall, is aimed at breaking up clouds before they reach Jakarta.

“We will do cloud seeding every day as needed,” BPPT chief Hammam Riza told reporters.

Cloud seeding is often used in Indonesia to put out forest fires during the dry season.

The floods followed torrential rains on Dec. 31 and into the early hours of New Year’s Day that inundated swathes of Jakarta and nearby towns, home to about 30 million people.

The deluge at the start of 2020 was “one of the most extreme rainfall” events since records began in 1866, the Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said on Friday.

The agency said climate change had increased the risk of extreme weather and warned that heavy rainfall could last until mid-February, with Jan 11-15 an expected peak.

Television footage showed flood waters inundating parts of Southeast Asia’s largest city and mud-covered cars, some piled on top of each other.

President Joko Widodo blamed delays in flood control infrastructure projects for the disaster, including the construction of a canal that has been delayed since 2017 due to land acquisition problems.

Widodo last year announced he would move Indonesia’s capital to East Kalimantan province on Borneo island to reduce the burden on overpopulated Jakarta.

More than 50 people died in one of the capital’s deadliest floods in 2007 and five years ago much of the centre of the city was inundated after canals overflowed.

Jakarta is sinking by several cm a year in northern parts, an official said in October, due to extraction of groundwater over the years causing layers of rock and sediment to slowly pancake on top of each other.

(Additional reporting by Jakarta bureau; Writing by Gayatri Suroyo; editing by Nick Macfie)