‘No warnings’: Powerful cyclone exposes Indonesia’s lack of preparedness

By Emanuel Dile Bataona and Agustinus Beo Da Costa

LEMBATA, Indonesia (Reuters) – Gregorius Hide, a 70-year-old farmer in the eastern Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara, said the only warning he had of an approaching swirl of muddy water that engulfed his district this week was a smell of wet earth shortly before it hit.

Tropical cyclone Seroja, one of the most powerful cyclones ever to hit Indonesia, struck on Sunday killing 163 people, mostly on the islands of Lembata, Alor and Adonara, among the poorest and least developed parts of Indonesia.

The sprawling archipelago, which is made up of more than 17,000 islands, is used to dealing with disasters ranging from earthquakes to volcanic eruptions. But cyclones of this power have been rare, leaving many areas poorly prepared.

“There were no government warnings in the village,” said Gregorius, recounting how he managed to flee with his family before returning to help treat injured neighbors and assist those who had lost everything.

Authorities will need to learn fast from the disaster since Indonesia’s weather agency (BMKG) has warned once-rare tropical cyclones are happening more often, with another potentially damaging cyclone due to hit this week.

Activists and researchers point to a slow response to Seroja, with little early warning infrastructure in place.

“We should’ve evacuated faster, like predicting when it would happen, who to evacuate,” said Dominikus Karangora of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI), a non-governmental group, in East Nusa Tenggara.

Some residents used traditional means to warn people, with reports of mosques using loudspeakers and church bells to warn of imminent danger.

Indonesia’s weather agency feeds warnings to local disaster mitigation agencies and also provides warnings on its website.

Isyak Nuka, head of the disaster mitigation agency in East Nusa Tenggara, said such measures were usually effective, but the scale of flash floods and landslides was “unprecedented”.

Isyak pledged to use this disaster as a lesson to strengthen the system.

Erma Yulihastin, a climatologist at the Indonesian National Institute of Aeronautics and Space, said Seroja was an anomaly in its destructive force since such cyclones do not usually gain traction in a country straddling the equator.

“Tropical cyclones don’t happen that much, but when they happen the damage is extraordinary,” she said.

Agie Wandala Putra, a researcher at BMKG, said Indonesia’s preparedness was currently skewed towards guarding against disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis and needed to put more attention on events like flooding, cyclones and droughts.

“What needs to be emphasized is not just early warning, but also our response capacity,” he said.

(Reporting by Emanuel Dile Bataona in Lembata and Agustinus Beo Da Costa in Jakarta; Additional reporting by Stanley Widianto and Fransiska Nangoy in Jakarta; Editing by Ed Davies and Tom Hogue)

Rescuers hunt for survivors after cyclone kills 119 in Indonesia

By Agustinus Beo Da Costa

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Rescuers searched for dozens missing in the remote islands of southeast Indonesia on Tuesday, as reinforcements arrived to help in the aftermath of a tropical cyclone that killed at least 119 people.

Helicopters were deployed to aid the search, and ships carrying food, water, blankets and medicine reached ports previously blocked by high waves whipped up by tropical cyclone Seroja, which brought heavy rain and triggered deadly floods and landslides on Sunday.

Indonesia’s disaster agency BNPB revised upwards the death toll from the cyclone in the East Nusa Tenggara islands, after earlier saying 86 had died. Seventy-six people were still missing.

“The rescue team is moving on the ground. The weather is good,” BNPB spokesman Raditya Jati told a news briefing.

Search and rescue personnel, however, had trouble transporting heavy equipment for use in the search.

“Search for victims is constrained, the existing heavy equipment cannot be sent to their destination, especially in Adonara and Alor,” the head of BNPB, Doni Monardo, said.

The Adonara and Alor islands were among the islands worst hit by the cyclone, with 62 and 21 people dead respectively.

Aerial images from Adonara on Tuesday showed brown mud and flood water covering a vast area, burying houses, roads and trees.

The military and volunteers arrived on the islands on Tuesday and were setting up public kitchens, while medical workers were brought in.

Video taken by a local official in Tanjung Batu village on Lembata, home to the Ile Lewotolok volcano, showed felled trees and large rocks of cold lava that had crushed homes after being dislodged by the cyclone.

Thousands of people have been displaced, nearly 2,000 buildings including a hospital were impacted, and more than 100 homes heavily damaged by the cyclone.

Two people died in nearby West Nusa Tenggara province.

There were also concerns about possible COVID-19 infections in crowded evacuation centers.

In neighboring East Timor, at least 33 were killed in floods and landslides and by falling trees. Civil defense authorities were using heavy equipment to search for survivors.

“The number of victims could still increase because many victims have not been found,” the main director of civil protection, Ismael da Costa Babo, told Reuters.

“They were buried by landslides and carried away by floods.”

Some residents of Lembata island may have also been washed away by mud into the sea.

A volcano that erupted on Lembata last month wiped out vegetation atop the mountain, which allowed hardened lava to slide towards 300 houses when the cyclone struck, a senior district official said, hoping help was on the way.

“We were only able to search on the seashore, not in the deeper area, because of lack of equipment yesterday,” Thomas Ola Langoday told Reuters by phone.

He feared many bodies were still buried under large rocks.

President Joko Widodo urged his cabinet to speed up evacuation and relief efforts and to restore power.

Weather agency head Dwikorita Karnawati said once-rare tropical cyclones were happening more often in Indonesia and climate change could be to blame.

“Seroja is the first time we’re seeing tremendous impact because it hit the land. It’s not common,” she said.

(Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Stanley Widianto and Bernadette Christina Munthe in Jakarta and Nelson Da Cruz in Dili; Writing by Gayatri Suroyo and Fathin Ungku; Editing by Martin Petty, Tom Hogue and Bernadette Baum)

Tropical cyclone kills at least 113 in Indonesia, East Timor

By Yos Seran and Agustinus Beo Da Costa

MALAKA, Indonesia (Reuters) – Floods and landslides triggered by tropical cyclone Seroja in a cluster of islands in southeast Indonesia and East Timor have killed 113 people, with many still unaccounted for and thousands displaced, officials said on Monday.

At least 86 deaths were reported on several islands in Indonesia’s West and East Nusa Tenggara provinces, while 71 others were missing, after the cyclone brought flash floods, landslides and strong winds amid heavy rain over the weekend, disaster agency BNPB said.

In East Timor, which shares the Timor island with Indonesia, at least 27 people were killed by landslides, flash floods and a falling tree, while 7,000 were displaced, its government said.

On Lembata island, authorities feared bodies had been washed away.

“We are using rubber boats to find bodies at sea. In several villages, flash floods hit while people were sleeping,” Thomas Ola Langoday, deputy head of Lembata district government, told Reuters by phone.

About 30,000 people have been impacted by floods in Indonesia, some already taking shelter in evacuation centers, but rescue operations have been made difficult after five bridges collapsed and falling trees blocked some roads, BNPB spokesman Raditya Jati said.

A continuing storm had also halted evacuations in some places, local authorities said.

Hundreds of houses and other facilities such as a solar power plant were damaged, BNPB said. Ships and motor boats sank as the cyclone set off waves as high as 6 meters.

Powerful currents continued to flow through villages in the Malaka district on Timor island on Monday, even though the rain had stopped.

Some residents there hauled themselves to their roofs to escape flood water rising to 3-4 meters.

“We had to dismantle the zinc roof. We went out through the back door and pulled ourselves out with a rope,” Agustina Luruk, 36, told Reuters as she and her three daughters waited to be evacuated by the side of a muddy road.

President Joko Widodo offered his condolences and ordered speedy disaster relief efforts.

The Seroja cyclone hit the Savu sea southwest of Timor island in the early hours of Monday, Indonesia’s weather agency said.

Within 24 hours, the cyclone’s intensity could strengthen, bringing yet more rain, waves and winds, although it was moving away from Indonesia, the agency said.

Dwikorita Karnawati, the agency’s head, said that the cyclone would be weakening in the next two days.

(Reporting by Yos Seran in Malaka, Agustinus Beo Da Costa in Jakarta, Nelson Da Cruz in Dili; Additional reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe; Writing by Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Martin Petty, Giles Elgood, Kirsten Donovan)

Myanmar security forces kill nine as Indonesia, envoys call for end to violence

(Reuters) – Security forces killed at least nine opponents of Myanmar’s Feb. 1 coup on Friday, a funeral service and media said, as Indonesia urged an end to violence and Western ambassadors condemned what they called the military’s immoral, indefensible actions.

Police and soldiers have used increasingly violent tactics to suppress demonstrations by supporters of detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but that has not deterred the protesters and crowds turned out again on Friday.

Security forces opened fire in a confrontation in the central town of Aungban as they tried to clear a protesters’ barricade, media and a witness reported.

“Security forces came to remove barriers but the people resisted and they fired,” the witness, who declined to be identified, said by telephone.

An official with Aungban’s funerary service, who declined to be identified, told Reuters eight people were killed, seven on the spot and one wounded person who died after being taken to hospital in the nearby town of Kalaw.

The spokesman for the junta was not immediately available for comment but has previously said security forces have used force only when necessary. Critics have derided that.

One protester was killed in the northeastern town of Loikaw, the Myanmar Now news portal said. One person was shot and killed in the main city of Yangon, social media posts showed. Reuters could not confirm that death.

Police ordered people in some Yangon neighborhoods to dismantle barricades and have been hunting for protest leaders, residents said. Video on social media showed police forcing a man to crawl down on a street on all fours.

Demonstrators were also out in the second city of Mandalay, the central towns of Myingyan and Katha, and Myawaddy in the east, witnesses and media reported.

Ambassadors of Western countries condemned the violence as “immoral and indefensible”, in particular in Yangon’s Hlaing Tharyar industrial district, where dozens were killed over several days after Chinese-owned garment factories were torched last weekend.

“Internet blackouts and suppression of the media will not hide the military’s abhorrent actions,” they said in a statement.

The total number of people killed in weeks of unrest has risen to at least 234, based on a tally by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group.

‘NO MORE VICTIMS’

Myanmar’s Asian neighbors, led by Indonesia, have offered to help find a solution but failed to make headway.

The 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has long held to the principle of not commenting on each other’s internal affairs, but there are growing signs that the Myanmar crisis is forcing a reassessment of that.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo made some of the strongest comments yet from a regional leader on the crackdown.

“Indonesia urges that the use of violence in Myanmar be stopped immediately so that there are no more victims,” Jokowi, as he is known, said in a virtual address.

“The safety and welfare of the people must be the top priority. Indonesia also urges dialogue, that reconciliation is carried out immediately to restore democracy.”

Myanmar’s coup leader, General Min Aung Hlaing, took part in a video conference with regional defense chiefs on Thursday, his first international engagement since seizing power, state television showed.

At the meeting, the head of Indonesia’s armed forces, Hadi Tjahjanto, expressed concern over the Myanmar situation, the Indonesian military said on its website.

Singapore’s military chief, Lieutenant-General Melvyn Ong, also expressed “grave concern” and urged Myanmar to avoid lethal force, the Singapore defense ministry said.

INTERNET RESTRICTIONS

Authorities have tightened restricted on internet services, making information increasingly difficult to verify, and also clamped down on private media.

The U.N. human rights office said this week about 37 journalists had been arrested so far. Two more were detained in the capital, Naypyitaw, on Friday while covering a hearing for an arrested member of Suu Kyi’s party, said the Mizzima news portal, the former employer of one of them, Than Htike Aung.

The other detained reporter was Aung Thura of the British Broadcasting Corp (BBC). The BBC said they were taken away by unidentified men and it called on authorities to help find its accredited journalist and confirm he was safe.

Suu Kyi, 75, faces accusations of bribery and other crimes that could see her banned from politics and jailed if convicted. Her lawyer says the charges are trumped up.

The army has defended its takeover, saying its accusations of fraud in a Nov. 8 election swept by Suu Kyi’s party were ignored by the electoral commission. It has promised a new election but not set a date.

(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Stephen Coates, Clarence Fernandez and Frances Kerry)

Supporters of Myanmar military coup rampage in Yangon

(Reuters) – Supporters of Myanmar’s military, some armed with knives and clubs, others firing catapults and throwing stones, attacked opponents of the Feb. 1 coup on Thursday, as protests against the new junta continued in the country’s largest city.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the army seized power and detained civilian government leader Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership after the military complained of fraud in a November election.

Protests and strikes have taken place daily for about three weeks, and students had planned to come out again in the commercial hub Yangon on Thursday.

But before many coup opponents congregated, about 1,000 supporters of the military turned up for a rally in the city center.

Some threatened news photographers and media workers witnesses said, and scuffles soon escalated into more serious violence in several parts of the city.

Several people were set upon and beaten by groups of men, some armed with knives, others firing catapults and hurling stones, witnesses said. At least two people were stabbed, video footage showed.

In one incident, several men, one wielding a large knife, attacked a man outside a city-center hotel. Emergency workers helped the bloodied man after his attackers moved off but his condition was not known.

“Today’s events show who the terrorists are. They’re afraid of the people’s action for democracy,” activist Thin Zar Shun Lei Yi told Reuters.

“We’ll continue our peaceful protests against dictatorship.”

As dusk fell, dozens of riot police fired tear gas into a neighborhood in the city to disperse a crowd that had gathered at an administrative office to protest the appointment of a local official by the junta, according to a witness and live-streamed video.

The violence will compound worries about a country largely paralyzed by the protests and a civil disobedience campaign of strikes against the military.

Earlier, police blocked the gates of Yangon’s main university campus, stopping hundreds of students inside from coming out to demonstrate.

Facebook said that due to the risks evident from the “deadly violence” seen since the coup it had banned the Myanmar military from using its Facebook and Instagram platforms.

The spokesman for the ruling military council did not respond to a telephone call seeking comment.

Military chief General Min Aung Hlaing says authorities are using minimal force. Nevertheless, three protesters and one policeman have been killed in violence.

‘ABETTORS’

The United States, Britain and others have called for Suu Kyi’s release and the restoration of democracy and have imposed limited sanctions aimed at members of the junta and its business links.

The British Foreign Office said on Thursday it would sanction a further six military figures, adding to 19 previously listed and including Min Aung Hlaing, and that the trade ministry would work to ensure British businesses do not deal with Myanmar’s military-owned companies.

“Today’s package of measures sends a clear message to the military regime in Myanmar that those responsible for human rights violations will be held to account, and the authorities must hand back control to a government elected by the people of Myanmar,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.

A rights group said as of Wednesday 728 people had been arrested, charged or sentenced in relation to the pro-democracy protests.

The army said its overthrow of the government was within the constitution after its complaints of fraud in the Nov. 8 election, swept by Suu Kyi’s party as expected, had been ignored. The election commission said the vote was fair.

The army has promised a new election after reviewing voter lists. It has not given a date but it imposed a one-year state of emergency when it seized power.

Suu Kyi has been detained incommunicado at her home in the capital Naypyitaw but her party says its November victory must be respected.

Veteran democracy activist Min Ko Naing said the military’s efforts to arrange to an election re-run, which include a new election commission, had to be stopped and any parties involved in it were “abettors”.

“We have to reject the actions of the military government to try to legitimize itself,” he said in a post on Facebook.

The question of a new election is at the center of a diplomatic effort by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member, aimed at easing the crisis.

Indonesia has taken the lead in the attempt and its foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, met her military-appointed Myanmar counterpart, Wunna Maung Lwin, for talks in Thailand on Wednesday.

But Indonesia’s intervention has raised suspicion among coup opponents who fear it will confer legitimacy on the junta and its bid to scrap the November vote and arrange a re-run.

Retno did not mention an election in comments to reporters after her talks but emphasized “an inclusive democratic transition process.”

A Reuters report this week cited sources as saying Indonesia was proposing that ASEAN members send monitors to ensure the generals stick to their promise of fair elections, which would imply accepting the November result was void.

Protesters gathered outside the Thai embassy in Yangon on Thursday chanting “respect our vote”.

(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies and Rob Birsel; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Crashed Sriwijaya Air jet had engine thrust imbalance – preliminary report

By Fransiska Nangoy and Bernadette Christina Munthe

JAKARTA (Reuters) – The Sriwijaya Air plane that crashed last month killing 62 people had an imbalance in engine thrust that eventually led the plane into a sharp roll and then a final dive into the sea, a preliminary report by investigators said on Wednesday.

When the 26-year-old Boeing Co 737-500 plane reached 8,150 feet (2,484 m) after take-off, the left engine throttle lever moved back while the right lever stayed in its original position, Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) said in its report.

“We don’t know if it’s broken or not, but it’s an anomaly because the left moved far back, the right did not as though it was stuck,” KNKT investigator Nurcayho Utomo told reporters of the levers.

At about 10,900 feet, the autopilot disengaged and the plane rolled to the left more than 45 degrees and started its dive, according to the report.

The Sriwijaya accident is Indonesia’s third major airline crash in just over six years and has shone a spotlight on the country’s poor air safety record.

Starting with just one plane in 2003, Sriwijaya has become the country’s No.3 airline group, aided by its strategy of acquiring old planes at cheap prices and serving routes neglected by competitors.

There had been two prior problems reported with the auto throttle system that automatically controls engine power based on maintenance logs, but the issue was rectified on Jan. 5, four days before the crash, KNKT said.

A working auto throttle is not required for a plane to be dispatched as pilots can control the thrust levers manually with their hands.

Divers are still searching for the plane’s cockpit voice recorder which could help investigators understand the actions taken by the pilots, both of whom were experienced with 17,900 hours for the captain and 5,100 hours for the first officer.

The report highlighted the importance of upset recovery training for pilots and the recognition of repetitive plane defects, just over six years after an AirAsia Indonesia crash where those were among the issues raised.

KNKT said that following the crash Sriwijaya had taken safety actions including adding upset recovery training in its next pilot proficiency check and reminding engineers that repetitive defects must be handled in accordance with safety manuals.

The airline sent a memo to pilots reminding them to write detailed reports to help engineers troubleshoot problems.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation also discussed the handling of repetitive problems and upset prevention and recovery training with other Indonesian operators after the crash, KNKT said.

Boeing said it would continue to support the investigation.

The preliminary report, as is standard, laid out factual information obtained to date but did not list the contributing factors to the crash. That will require further investigation.

Safety experts say most air accidents are caused by a combination of factors that can take months to establish. Under international standards, the final report is due within a year of the crash.

(Reporting by Fransiska Nangoy and Bernadette Christina Munthe; additional reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Gayatri Suroyo; writing by Jamie Freed; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Kim Coghill)

Indonesia halts search for victims of Sriwijaya Air crash

By Yuddy Cahya Budiman

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian authorities said on Thursday the search for victims of a plane crash that killed all 62 people on board had been halted, but the hunt would continue for the Sriwijaya Air jet’s cockpit voice recorder (CVR).

“Search operations have been closed, but we will continue to search for the CVR,” said Bagus Puruhito, who heads the country’s search and rescue agency.

He told reporters that the rescue team had collected more than 324 bags of body parts and plane parts.

Flight SJ 182 crashed into the Java Sea on Jan. 9 four minutes after take-off from Jakarta.

Divers last week retrieved from the seabed the other so-called black box, the flight data recorder, of the 26-year-old Boeing Co 737-500 jet.

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

(Reporting by Yuddy Cahya; Writing by Fanny Potkin; Editing by Martin Petty)

Indonesia’s president promises to rebuild city hit by earthquake as death toll reaches 90

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia will rebuild homes and buildings ravaged by a powerful earthquake that struck Sulawesi island last week, President Joko Widodo said on Tuesday, as the death toll reached 90 and thousands more people were displaced.

The 6.2-magnitude earthquake caused significant damage to hundreds of homes, a mall, hospital, hotels and government buildings early on Friday and has been followed by more than 39 aftershocks since.

“Soon the central government will rebuild, then for collapsed houses, the government will help for those that were heavily damaged,” Widodo said as he visited the city of Mamuju earlier on Tuesday.

The Indonesian government will give as much as 50 million rupiah ($3,558.72) for the rebuilding of “heavily damaged” houses, while houses with “medium” and “minor” damages will given up to 25 million rupiah and 10 million rupiah respectively.

“We hope that with the help of the central government, the recovery of collapsed houses, economic recovery, recovery of service processes in government and the bureaucracy will also return to normal,” he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, a military official who is part of the country’s official search and rescue joint forces, said that nearly 10,000 people have been evacuated from Mamuju and the nearby city, Majene.

Many of them have fled to Parepare, a neighboring city more than 250km south of Mamuju and nearly 150km from Majene, the official said.

Straddling the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” Indonesia is regularly hit by earthquakes. In 2018, a 7.5-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami struck Palu, in Sulawesi, killing thousands.

The country’s meteorology agency has warned of continued aftershocks, and the risk of extreme weather in coming weeks.

Indonesia has faced a string of disasters this month, including a plane crash on Jan. 9 that killed all 62 on board, a flash flood in South Kalimantan on Borneo island that killed at least 15, volcanic eruptions and a deadly landslide that killed 40 in Java.

($1 = 14,050.0000 rupiah)

(Reporting by Heru Asprihanto, Stanley Widianto; Writing by Fathin Ungku; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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)