Major quake hits southern Mexico, triggers local Pacific tsunami

By Julia Love

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – A powerful earthquake of magnitude 7.4 struck the coast of southern Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least one person, buckling paved roads, and setting off a tsunami in nearby Pacific coastal areas.

One person died in the state of Oaxaca, Governor Alejandro Murat said, after the quake hit the Pacific coastal state mid-morning.

The country’s seismological service said a tsunami on the Oaxaca coast was ongoing, with the sea level having risen 60 centimeters (2 feet) at Huatulco beach, a popular destination for U.S. and Canadian tourists.

Mexico’s civil protection agency recommended that residents move away from the coastline. Videos on social media had earlier shown the ocean’s water receding in Oaxaca, a mountainous state that is also home to coffee plantations and Spanish colonial architecture.

Miguel Candelaria, 30, was working at his computer in his family home in the Oaxaca town of Juchitan when the ground began to tremble. He ran outside with relatives, but they had to stop in the middle of the street as the pavement buckled and rocked.

“We couldn’t walk… the street was like chewing gum,” said Candelaria, 30.

Neighbors screamed in terror and some shouted out warnings to run from the electricity poles that looked poised to fall, said Candelaria, who works in telecommunications marketing.

Quakes of magnitudes over 7 are major earthquakes capable of widespread, heavy damage. A 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck central Mexico in 2017 killed 355 people in the capital and the surrounding states.

Tuesday’s quake set off a tsunami warning for the Pacific coasts of Mexico and Central and South America. Waves of up to one meter (3.28 ft) were possible on the Mexican coast, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned.

Buildings shook in Mexico City, hundreds of miles away.

Helicopters flew low over the Roma and Condesa districts of the capital, apparently looking for damage in streets where many buildings still show the scars of the 2017 quake.

The city’s mayor said there were two people injured but no major damage from the quake, which hit as millions of people were at home in lockdown due to the coronavirus.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicenter of Tuesday’s quake was located 69 km (43 miles) northeast of the town of Pochutla.

It was very shallow, only 26 km (16 miles) below the earth’s surface, which would have amplified the shaking.

Near to the epicenter, Magdalena Castellanos Fermin was in the village of Santiago Astata when the quake struck, sending large rocks tumbling down from the hillside and alarming residents, she told Reuters by telephone.

“It was really intense, really strong,” she said.

(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel, Julia Love, Adriana Barrera, Stefanie Eschenbacher, Dave Graham and Anthony Esposito in Mexico City and Sandra Maler in Washington; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Rumbling volcano shuts down Philippine capital

By Karen Lema and Enrico Dela Cruz

MANILA (Reuters) – Schools and businesses shut across the Philippine capital on Monday as a volcano belched clouds of ash across the city and seismologists warned an eruption could happen at any time, potentially triggering a tsunami.

Thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes around Taal, one of the world’s smallest active volcanoes, which spewed ash for a second day from its crater in the middle of a lake about 70 km (45 miles) south of central Manila.

Residents living near the errupting Taal Volcano evacuate in Lemery, Batangas City, Philippines, January 13, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

“The speed of escalation of Taal’s volcanic activity caught us by surprise,” Maria Antonia Bornas, chief science research specialist at the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, told reporters.

“We have detected magma. It’s still deep, it hasn’t reached the surface. We still can expect a hazardous eruption any time.”

Authorities warned that an eruption could send a tsunami surging across the lake.

More than 24,000 people have been evacuated from the volcanic island and the area immediately around it – normally a popular tourist spot.

“We got scared of what could happen to us, we thought the volcano was going to erupt already,” said Marilou Baldonado, 53, who left the town of Laurel with only two sets of clothes after she saw the huge ash cloud build.

Some tourists ignored the dangers and traveled to towns close to the volcano to get a better look.

Residents living near the errupting Taal Volcano evacuate in Agoncillo, Batangas City, Philippines, January 13, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

“It’s a once in a lifetime experience for us,” Israeli tourist Benny Borenstein told Reuters as he snapped photos of Taal from a vantage point in Tagaytay City, about 32 km away.

To the southwest of the volcano, the towns of Agoncillo and Lemery were coated by a thick layer of ash, making roads impassable.

Agoncillo’s mayor, Daniel Reyes, told DZMM radio some homes and part of a building had collapsed under the weight of the fallen ash.

In nearby Talisay Batangas, Vice Governor Mark Leviste said rain had turned ash to mud and trucks were needed to evacuate more people from remote communities.

“There is no power. Even water was cut, so we are in need of potable water,” he said. “We are in need of face masks.”

SHUT DOWN

In Manila, masks sold out quickly after residents were advised to wear them if they had to go out. Some wore handkerchiefs across their faces as they breathed air tainted by the smell of sulfur.

Streets that would normally be snarled with some of the world’s worst traffic were largely empty in the city of 13 million people.

Schools and government offices were closed on official orders. The stock exchange suspended trading and many private businesses shut for the day too.

Classes in some cities in the capital will remain suspended on Tuesday, officials said.

Lightning strike in the midst of Taal volcano explosion is seen in Lipa City, Philippines January 12, 2020 in this picture obtained from social media. Cheslie Andal/via REUTERS

Flight operations at Manila’s international airport partially resumed, authorities said, after more than 500 flights were delayed or canceled on Sunday.

One flight that did land carried President Rodrigo Duterte, who was coming back from his home city of Davao in the southern Philippines. He had been unable to fly on Sunday because visibility was so low.

One of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines, Taal has erupted more than 30 times in the past five centuries, most recently in 1977. An eruption in 1911 killed 1,500 people and one in 1754 lasted for a few months.

The island has been showing signs of restiveness since early last year.

The Philippines lies on the “Ring of Fire,” a belt of volcanoes circling the Pacific Ocean that is also prone to earthquakes.

(Additional reporting by Peter Blaza; Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Stephen Coates and Andrew Heavens)

Miracle survivor on mission to help close gaps in tsunami warning system

By Angie Teo and Prapan Chankaew Heru Asprihanto

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (Reuters) – Arif Munandar had been pronounced dead before he woke up in a body bag four days after a monstrous wave swept his village in Indonesia’s northern Aceh province 15 years ago.

When a 9.1-magnitude quake opened a faultline deep beneath the Indian Ocean, it triggered a tsunami as high as 17.4 meters (57 feet), killing more than 230,000 people in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and nine other countries.

Aceh province bore the brunt of the disaster. A total of 128,858 people were killed there, according to statistics compiled by the government and aid agencies. Another 37,087 are still listed as missing.

Munandar, who spent six years living in a relief camp before he was able to complete the rebuilding of his old house with government help, lost 24 family members, including his wife and three children. He has since remarried and has two children.

Now, the 49-year-old works as a radio communication technician at Aceh’s disaster mitigation agency, and considers it his personal mission to keep his village’s tsunami warning system well-maintained.

“We need to provide information to the community in order to minimize the number of casualties when such a disaster happens again,” said Munandar, stressing the need to anticipate the worst.

More than $400 million has been spent across 28 countries on the early-warning system, comprising 101 sea-level gauges, 148 seismometers and nine buoys.

“The Indian Ocean region is much safer against the tsunami threat than it was in 2004,” said Srinivasa Tummala, head of the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (IOTWMS) established in 2013.

However, a lack of sufficient tsunami buoys, other detection equipment, and real-time data-sharing, as well as the difficulty of maintaining the tsunami detection system, remain the biggest hurdles, he said.

Threats like the twin tsunamis triggered by underwater landslides in Indonesia’s Palu and Banten province last year, which hit the shore in a shorter timeframe, also continue to challenge the early warning system, Tummala added.

Experts are exploring new technologies such as mobile apps and a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) network to enhance preparedness.

The focus of the tsunami warning mitigation system is now on community readiness, Tummala said, including carrying out regular drills.

In the coastal Ban Nam Khem village, in southern Thailand, which lost more than half its population in the 2004 tsunami, the national anthem is played weekly on the tsunami warning tower as a form of test run for a nightmare they hope will never recur.

“The tower shouldn’t be used just for warnings about a tsunami,” said village community leader Prayoon Chonkraichak.

“It should be utilized for more purposes so that it’s worth the budget, and more importantly, so people in the community can have more confidence in it.”

(Reporting by Heru Asprihanto, Angie Teo and Prapan Chankaew; Editing by Karishma Singh and Alex Richardson)

Japan clears restart at nuclear reactor closest to epicenter of 2011 quake

By Aaron Sheldrick and Yuka Obayashi

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Tohoku Electric Power said on Wednesday it has won initial regulatory approval to restart a reactor at its Onagawa power plant, more than 8 years after it was damaged in the earthquake and tsunami that caused the Fukushima disaster.

Tohoku Electric said in a statement it has received a first green light from Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority to restart the No. 2 reactor at Onagawa, subject to a public consultation period.

Onagawa was the closest among Japan’s nuclear stations to the epicenter of the magnitude-9 quake in March 2011, which triggered a tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people, as well as causing the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

The station was swamped by the tsunami, but survived with its cooling system intact, saving its reactors from the threat of meltdowns similar to those that occurred at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi station to the south.

Further approvals will be required before the restart, along with the consent of local authorities, which is not guaranteed.

The reactor is a boiling water reactor (BWR) with the same basic design as those that melted down in the Fukushima crisis.

Tohoku Electric expects to spend 340 billion yen ($3.1 billion) on safety upgrades at the Onagawa plant, including for a wall stretching 800 meters (2,625-ft) in length and standing as tall as 29 meters above sea level to protect it from tsunamis.

Restarting the No. 2 reactor will save the utility 35 billion yen each year in fuel costs, he said.

The Fukushima disaster led to the eventual shutdown of the country’s then-54 operational reactors, which once provided nearly a third of Japan’s electricity. All had to be relicensed under new standards after the disaster highlighted operational and regulatory failings.

While the approval will be a boost for Japan’s resurgent nuclear industry, the sector will still miss a government target of providing at least a fifth of the country’s electricity by 2030, an analysis by Reuters showed last year.

Nine reactors have been restarted, all of them pressurized water reactors located far from Tokyo, while the stigma of Fukushima still hangs over use of the older BWR technology.

The issue of nuclear safety in Japan was highlighted again earlier this week when Pope Francis – who met victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster while in Japan over the weekend – said nuclear energy should not be used until there are ironclad guarantees that it is safe for people and the environment.

 

(Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick and Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

Indonesia’s latest tsunami raises global questions over disaster preparedness

Debris are seen after the tsunami damage at Sunda strait at Kunjir village in South Lampung, Indonesia, December 28, 2018. Antara Foto/Ardiansyah via REUTERS

By Fergus Jensen and Fanny Potkin

CIGONDONG/JAKARTA, Indonesia (Reuters) – As Indonesia reels from the carnage of yet another natural disaster, authorities around the globe are working on how they can prepare for the kind of freak tsunami that battered coasts west of Jakarta this month.

The Dec. 23 tsunami killed around 430 people along the coastlines of the Sunda Strait, capping a year of earthquakes and tsunamis in the vast archipelago, which straddles the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire.

No sirens were heard in those towns and beaches to alert people before the deadly series of waves hit shore.

Seismologists and authorities say a perfect storm of factors caused the tsunami and made early detection near impossible given the equipment in place.

But the disaster should be a wake-up call to step up research on tsunami triggers and preparedness, said several of the experts, some of whom have traveled to the Southeast Asian nation to investigate what happened.

“Indonesia has demonstrated to the rest of the world the huge variety of sources that have the potential to cause tsunamis. More research is needed to understand those less-expected events,” said Stephen Hicks, a seismologist at the University of Southampton.

Most tsunamis on record have been triggered by earthquakes. But this time it was an eruption of Anak Krakatau volcano that caused its crater to partially collapse into the sea at high tide, sending waves up to 5 meters (16 feet) high smashing into densely populated coastal areas on Java and Sumatra islands.

During the eruption, an estimated 180 million cubic meters, or around two-thirds of the less-than-100-year-old volcanic island, collapsed into the sea.

But the eruption didn’t rattle seismic monitors significantly, and the absence of seismic signals normally associated with tsunamis led Indonesia’s geophysics agency (BMKG) initially to tweet there was no tsunami.

Muhamad Sadly, head of geophysics at BMKG, later told Reuters its tidal monitors were not set up to trigger tsunami warnings from non-seismic events.

The head of Japan’s International Research Institute of Disaster, Fumihiko Imamura, told Reuters he did not believe Japan’s current warning system would have detected a tsunami like the one in the Sunda Strait.

“We still have some risks of this in Japan…because there’s 111 active volcanoes and low capacity to monitor eruptions generating a tsunami,” he said in Jakarta.

Scientists have long flagged the collapse of Anak Krakatau, around 155 km (100 miles) west of the capital, as a concern. A 2012 study published by the Geological Society of London deemed it a “tsunami hazard.”

Anak Krakatau has emerged from the Krakatoa volcano, which in 1883 erupted in one of the biggest explosions in recorded history, killing more than 36,000 people in a series of tsunamis and lowering the global surface temperature by one degree Celsius with its ash.

BROKEN WARNING SYSTEM

Some experts believe there was enough time for at least a partial detection of last week’s tsunami in the 24 minutes it took waves to hit land after the landslide on Anak Krakatau.

But a country-wide tsunami warning system of buoys connected to seabed sensors has been out of order since 2012 due to vandalism, neglect and a lack of public funds, authorities say.

“The lack of an early warning system is why Saturday’s tsunami was not detected,” said disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Nugroho, adding that of 1,000 tsunami sirens needed across Indonesia, only 56 are in place.

“Signs that a tsunami was coming weren’t detected and so people did not have time to evacuate.”

President Joko Widodo this week ordered BMKG to purchase new early warning systems, and the agency later said it planned to install three tsunami buoys on the islands surrounding Anak Krakatau.

The cost of covering the country is estimated at 7 trillion rupiah ($481.10 million). That is roughly equivalent to Indonesia’s total disaster response budget of 7.19 trillion rupiah for 2018, according to Nugroho.

But other experts say even if this network had been working, averting disaster would have been difficult.

“The tsunami was very much a worst-case scenario for any hope of a clear tsunami warning: a lack of an obvious earthquake to trigger a warning, shallow water, rough seabed, and the close proximity to nearby coastlines,” said seismologist Hicks.

In the Philippines, Renato Solidum, undersecretary for disaster risk reduction, said eruptions from the country’s Taal volcano had caused tsunami waves before in the surrounding Taal Lake.

He told Reuters that what happened in Indonesia showed the need to “re-emphasize awareness and preparedness” regarding volcanic activity and its potential to trigger tsunamis in the Philippines.

The United States has also suffered several tsunamis caused by volcanic activity, including in Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington, according to the national weather service.

MORE EDUCATION

In Indonesia earlier this year, a double quake-and-tsunami disaster killed over 2,000 people on Sulawesi island, while at least 500 died when an earthquake flattened much of the northern coastline of the holiday island of Lombok.

In a country where, according to government data, 62.4 percent of the population is at risk of being struck by earthquakes and 1.6 percent by tsunamis, attention is now focused on a continued lack of preparedness.

“Given the potential for disasters in the country, it’s time to have disaster education be part of the national curriculum,” Widodo told reporters after the latest tsunami.

For Ramdi Tualfredi, a high school teacher who survived last week’s waves, these improvements cannot come soon enough.

He told Reuters that people in his village of Cigondong on the west coast of Java and close to Krakatau had never received any safety drills or evacuation training.

“I’ve never received education on safety steps,” he said.

“The system…totally failed.”

(Additional reporting by Wilda Asmarini, Tabita Diela, Bernadette Christina Munthe in Jakarta, Linda Sieg and Tanaka Kiyoshi in Tokyo, and Neil Jerome Morales in Manila.; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Indonesia orders flights to steer clear of erupting Anak Krakatau volcano

An aerial view of Anak Krakatau volcano during an eruption at Sunda strait in South Lampung, Indonesia, December 23, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Bisnis Indonesia/Nurul Hidayat/ via REUTERS/File Photo

By Fergus Jensen

LABUAN, Indonesia (Reuters) – Indonesia on Thursday raised the alert level for the erupting Anak Krakatau volcano to the second-highest and ordered all flights to steer clear, days after it triggered a tsunami that killed at least 430 people.

A crater collapse on the volcanic island at high tide on Saturday sent waves up to 5 meters (16 feet) high smashing into the coast on the Sunda Strait, between the islands of Java and Sumatra.

Residents walk among debris after the tsunami at Labuan in Pandeglang, Banten province, Indonesia December 26, 2018, in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Akbar Nugroho Gumay/via REUTERS

Residents walk among debris after the tsunami at Labuan in Pandeglang, Banten province, Indonesia December 26, 2018, in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Akbar Nugroho Gumay/via REUTERS

Authorities have warned that the crater of Anak Krakatau, or child of Krakatau, remains fragile, raising fears of another collapse and tsunami, and have urged residents to stay away from the coast.

The volcano has been rumbling on and off since June but has been particularly active since Sunday, spewing lava and rocks, and sending huge clouds of ash up to 3,000 meters into heavily overcast skies.

The national geological agency, in raising the alert level to the second-highest, set a 5-km exclusion zone around the island.

“Since December 23, activity has not stopped … We anticipate a further escalation,” said Antonius Ratdomopurbo, secretary of the geological agency.

A thin layer of volcanic ash has been settling on buildings, vehicles and vegetation along the west coast of Java since late on Wednesday, according to images shared by the national disaster mitigation agency.

Authorities said the ash was not dangerous, but advised residents to wear masks and goggles when outside, while aircraft were ordered away.

“All flights are rerouted due to Krakatau volcano ash on red alert,” Indonesia’s air traffic control agency AirNav said in a release.

AirNav’s corporate secretary, Didiet K.S. Radityo, told Reuters there were no disruptions to any international or domestic flights.

The civil aviation authority said no airports would be affected. The capital, Jakarta, is about 155 km east of the volcano.

Indonesia is a vast archipelago that sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”.

In 1883, the volcano then known as Krakatoa erupted in one of the biggest blasts in recorded history, killing more than 36,000 people in a series of tsunamis and lowering the global surface temperature by one degree Celsius with its ash.

Anak Krakatau is the island that emerged from the area in 1927 and has been growing ever since.

This year, Indonesia has suffered its worst annual death toll from disasters in more than a decade.

‘NO PREPARATIONS’

The latest tsunami, coming during the Christmas season, evoked memories of the Indian Ocean tsunami triggered by an earthquake on Dec. 26, 2004, which killed 226,000 people in 14 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

Tsunami warning systems were set up after 2004 but they have failed to prevent subsequent disasters, often because apparatus has not been maintained, while public education and disaster preparation efforts have been patchy at best.

Ramdi Tualfredi, a teacher in the village of Cigondong, on Java’s west coast, said he had never got any instructions on safety steps and efforts to prepare communities for tsunami had “totally failed”.

“There were no preparations. I didn’t get information from anywhere,” he said, adding there had been little help for residents since disaster struck.

Nearly 22,000 people were displaced by the tsunami, while 1,495 were injured and 159 are missing.

Thousands of displaced are staying in tents and crowded into public buildings.

Hamad Suhaimi, a teacher working as a volunteer at a school being used as an emergency shelter, said the numbers of displaced needing help had surged as authorities expanded the area deemed unsafe.

Volunteers and displaced villagers told Reuters that conditions in the shelters were getting difficult, especially for new mothers and their babies.

“We’re breastfeeding. We have to eat in the morning but food only comes at midday and there are no vegetables,” said Siti Sayaroh, 24.

The government has declared a state of emergency until Jan. 4, to help with the distribution of aid.

(Additional reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe, Cindy Silviana, Nilufar Rizki, Jessica Damiana, Tabita Diela; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Indonesia hunts for survivors as volcano tsunami toll nears 400

Rescue team members search for victims among debris after a tsunami hit at Rajabasa district in South Lampung, Indonesia, December 23, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Ardiansyah/ via REUTERS

By Fergus Jensen

LABUAN, Indonesia (Reuters) – Indonesian military and rescue teams fanned out across a stretch of coastline on Monday, hoping to find survivors of a tsunami triggered by a landslide from a volcano that killed at least 373 people.

Thick clouds of ash spewed from Anak Krakatau, a volcanic island where a crater collapse at high tide late on Saturday set off waves that smashed into coastal areas on both sides of the Sunda Strait between the islands of Sumatra and Java.

Rescuers used heavy machinery and bare hands to dig bodies out of mud and wreckage along a 100 km (60 mile) stretch of Java’s west coast.

Residents, who lived at coast of Bandar Lampung, rest at government building after they evacuated following a tsunami hit Sunda strait in Lampung, Indonesia, in this December 24, 2018 photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Ardiansyah/ via REUTERS

Residents, who lived at coast of Bandar Lampung, rest at government building after they evacuated following a tsunami hit Sunda strait in Lampung, Indonesia, in this December 24, 2018 photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Ardiansyah/ via REUTERS

More than 1,400 people were injured, and about 12,000 residents had to move to higher ground, with a high-tide warning extended to Wednesday.

The vast archipelago, which sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, has suffered its worst annual death toll from disasters in more than a decade.

Earthquakes flattened parts of the island of Lombok in July and August, and a double quake-and-tsunami killed more than 2,000 people on a remote part of Sulawesi island in September.

“At least 373 people have died, while 128 people are currently missing,” Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the disaster mitigation agency, said on Monday evening.

Saturday’s tsunami destroyed more than 700 buildings, from small shops and houses to villas and hotels. It took just 24 minutes after the landslide for waves to hit land, and there was no early warning for those living on the coast.

Police officers search for victims among rubble of a destroyed beach front hotel which was hit by a tsunami in Pandeglang, Banten province, Indonesia, December 24, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Police officers search for victims among rubble of a destroyed beach front hotel which was hit by a tsunami in Pandeglang, Banten province, Indonesia, December 24, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

“EVERYTHING IS DESTROYED”

Vehicles were crushed by waves that lifted chunks of metal, felled trees, wooden beams and household items and deposited them on roads and rice fields.

Nurjana, 20, ran uphill after the tsunami hit. Her beachside snack stall was washed away.

“I opened the door straight away and saved myself. I jumped over the wall,” she said. “Everything is destroyed.”

Out in the strait, Anak Krakatau (Child of Krakatau) was still erupting on Sunday night, belching white smoke and ash into the sky.

The meteorology agency that an area of about 64 hectares, or 90 soccer pitches, of the volcanic island had collapsed into the sea.

In 1883, the volcano then known as Krakatoa erupted in one of the biggest blasts in recorded history, killing more than 36,000 people in a series of tsunami, and lowering the global surface temperature by one degree Celsius with its ash. Anak Krakatau is the island that emerged from the area in 1927, and has been growing ever since.

The high waves isolated hundreds of people on Sebesi island, about 12 km from the volcano.

“We are completely paralyzed,” Syamsiar, a village secretary on the island, told Metro TV, calling for food and medicine.

President Joko Widodo, who is running for re-election in April, told disaster agencies to install early warning systems, but experts said that, unlike with tsunami caused by earthquakes, little could have been done to alert people that waves were coming.

MEMORIES OF 2004

“Tsunamis from volcanic flank collapse are generated right at the coast and often close to populations,” said Eddie Dempsey, lecturer in structural geology at Britain’s University of Hull.

“The interval between the volcanic collapse and the arrival of the waves is minimal.”

The timing of the disaster over the Christmas season evoked memories of the Indian Ocean tsunami triggered by an earthquake on Dec. 26, 2004, which killed 226,000 people in 14 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

Families streamed out of the area on Monday for fear of further tsunami, jamming roads already blocked by debris.

Fishermen told how a light breeze was followed by a huge wave that smashed together wooden fishing boats moored off the coast and pulled down the trees they were tied to.

Excavators were being used to move debris including piles of steel roofing tangled like spaghetti. Medics were sent in with the military, while groups of police and soldiers reached remote areas.

One team used sniffer dogs to search for survivors at the beach club where a tsunami washed away an outdoor stage where the Indonesian rock band Seventeen were performing at a party for about 200 guests. They had already pulled out nine bodies that day.

At a village 20 km away, district chief Atmadja Suhara said he was helping to care for 4,000 refugees, many of them now homeless.

“Everybody is still in a state of panic,” he said. “We often have disasters, but not as bad as this.”

“God willing,” he said, “we will rebuild.”

(Additional reporting by Johan Purnomo and Adi Kurniawan in PANDEGLANG and Fanny Potkin, Tabita Diela and Wilda Asmarni in JAKARTA; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Martin Petty; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Indonesia searches for survivors after volcano triggers deadly tsunami

Rescue team members search for victims among debris after a tsunami hit at Rajabasa district in South Lampung, Indonesia, December 23, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Ardiansyah/ via REUTERS

By Fergus Jensen

LABUAN, Indonesia (Reuters) – Indonesian military and rescue teams fanned out across a stretch of coastline on Monday, hoping to find survivors of a tsunami triggered by an underwater landslide from a volcano that has been erupting for months.

Authorities called for vigilance amid the spewing of ash by Anak Krakatau, a volcanic island where a crater collapse late on Saturday together with a high tide set off waves that smashed into coastal areas, killing at least 281 people.

Rescuers using heavy machinery and their bare hands searched through debris, pulling out bodies in the worst-affected areas on the west coast of Java island, where and hundreds of soldiers and volunteers looked for victims along a 100 km (60 mile) stretch of shore.

More than 1,000 people were injured and about 12,000 residents had to move to higher ground, with a high-tide warning extended to Wednesday.

The vast archipelago, which sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, has suffered its worst annual death toll from disasters in more than a decade.

Earthquakes flattened parts of the island of Lombok in July and August, and a double quake-and-tsunami killed more than 2,000 people on a remote part of Sulawesi island in September.

President Joko Widodo visited the affected area on Monday and praised the authorities for swift action in responding to the latest disaster.

“The speed and accuracy in the field is to be appreciated,” he said.

Saturday’s tsunami came with almost no warning and destroyed more than 700 buildings, from small shops and houses to villas and hotels. The time between the landslide and waves hitting the coast was just 24 minutes.

Dented vehicles were crushed together by a wave that carried chunks of metal, felled trees and left roof tiles, wooden beams and household items strewn across roads. Some cars ended up in rice fields.

Nurjana, 20, dashed to the mountains after the tsunami hit. Her beachside snack stall was washed away.

“I opened the door straight away and saved myself. I jumped over the wall,” she told Reuters.

“Everything is destroyed.”

HEIGHTENED ACTIVITY

Aerial video footage of the Sunda Strait between the islands of Java and Sumatra showed Anak Krakatau (Child of Krakatau) still erupting on Sunday night, with sustained bursts of white smoke and ash filling the sky.

The meteorology agency estimated the collapsed area of the volcanic island, once known as Krakatoa, was about 64 hectares, or the size of 90 soccer fields.

Scientists had earlier said an underwater landslide was the likely cause.

Krakatau erupted in 1883 killing more than 36,000 people in a series of tsunamis. Anak Krakatau is the island that emerged from the area in 1927 and has been growing ever since.

The high waves isolated hundreds of people on Sebesi island, about 12 km from the volcano.

A man carries a chicken as he searches for belonging at his house hit by the tsunami in Pandeglang, Banten province, Indonesia, December 24, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

A man carries a chicken as he searches for belonging at his house hit by the tsunami in Pandeglang, Banten province, Indonesia, December 24, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

“We are completely paralyzed,” Syamsiar, a village secretary on the island, told Metro TV, calling for food and medicine.

Widodo, who is running for re-election in April, told disaster agencies to install early warning systems, but experts said that unlike with tsunami caused by earthquakes, little could have been done to alert people that waves were coming.

“Tsunamis from volcanic flank collapse are generated right at the coast and often close to populations,” said Eddie Dempsey, lecturer in structural geology at Britain’s University of Hull.

“The interval between the volcanic collapse and the arrival of the waves is minimal.”

The timing of the disaster over the Christmas season evoked memories of the Indian Ocean tsunami triggered by an earthquake on Dec. 26, 2004, which killed 226,000 people in 14 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

Families streamed out of the area on Monday for fear of further tsunami, jamming roads already blocked by debris.

Fishermen told how a light breeze was followed by a huge wave that smashed together wooden fishing boats moored off the coast and pulled down the trees they were tied to.

A teenage boy cries after finding his relatives among the ruins of his house which was hit by the tsunami in Pandeglang, Banten province, Indonesia, December 24, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

A teenage boy cries after finding his relatives among the ruins of his house which was hit by the tsunami in Pandeglang, Banten province, Indonesia, December 24, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

TANGLED WRECKAGE

Excavators were being used to move debris and wreckage, including piles of steel roofing tangled like spaghetti. Medics were sent in with the military, while groups of police and soldiers reached remote areas.

A team of volunteers who worked on disasters in Lombok and Palu pulled bodies out of damaged beachside retreats.

“This year has been pretty busy. The disasters have been more severe,” said Muhammad Idris, who led the team.

Television footage showed how the tsunami washed away an outdoor stage where Indonesian rock band Seventeen was performing for about 200 guests at a party for utility company Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN).

Forty-one PLN employees and their relatives died. At least four band members and support crew were killed, lead singer Riefian “Ifan” Fajarsyah told followers in a tearful Instagram account.

Cici Paramita, 27, remembers hearing volcanic eruptions on Saturday afternoon, as she in front of her house about 50 meters back from the beach but said they were “not unusual”.

But then she heard an “extraordinary” rumbling.

She dashed inside to save her year-old baby and later found her other child, 8, alive among the wreckage outside.

“I was afraid for my life,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Johan Purnomo and Adi Kurniawan in PANDEGLANG and Fanny Potkin, Tabita Diela and Wilda Asmarni in JAKARTA; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Martin Petty; Editing by Paul Tait)

Battered Indonesians seek talismans of former lives in quake rubble

A woman holds a stuffed rabbit toy after it was found at her destroyed house where she said she had lost her three children after the area was hit by an earthquake, in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File photo

BALAROA, Indonesia (Reuters) – Wooden beams tilted at crazy angles poke out of piles of shattered concrete littered with battered motorbikes and household items, from crumpled pots and pans to smudged notebooks and soft toys.

After an earthquake of magnitude 7.5 hit Indonesia’s coastal city of Palu, a pile of broken pink concrete is all that remains of fruit vendor Kaharuddin’s home.

He stared quietly at the rubble in his hometown of Balaroa, saying it concealed the body of his one-year-old daughter, who was among the hundreds missing after the Sept. 28 disaster.

Kaharuddin, 40, waits for excavators to dig up a pile of concrete that used to be his home and was destroyed by an earthquake in Balaroa neighbourhood, Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Kaharuddin, 40, waits for excavators to dig up a pile of concrete that used to be his home and was destroyed by an earthquake in Balaroa neighbourhood, Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

“I’m just waiting here and hope that I can find my child,” said Kaharuddin, 40, who goes by one name, like many Indonesians. “Or maybe I have to accept that one will have to remain buried here.”

Four days after the quake, he said, rescue workers found the remains of his wife, Hastuti, still holding in her arms the bodies of their other two daughters, aged four and two.

As many as 5,000 people may still be buried under the mud, disaster relief officials estimate. Indonesia called off the search for victims on Friday, two weeks after the quake, citing health concerns, despite residents’ pleas to continue.

The town in the province of central Sulawesi was among those hardest hit by the phenomenon of ground liquefaction, when the shaking earth turns soft, damp soil into a roiling quagmire, dragging thousands of houses and people under mud and asphalt.

The destructive waves of soil smashed thousands of homes, cars, and buildings into each other, carrying some of them hundreds of meters from their original position within minutes.

Two men recover a portrait of their dead parents from the rubble of their former house hit by an earthquake in Balaroa neighbourhood in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Two men recover a portrait of their dead parents from the rubble of their former house hit by an earthquake in Balaroa neighbourhood in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

“It felt like the earth was alive,” said Darmi, 48, who saw half of her two-story home collapse. “It was opening up, swallowing people, and then closing again. And the noise was so loud. This loud cracking ‘k-k-k-k’ sound.”

Returning to Balaroa for the first time two weeks after the disaster, Hesti Andayani, 27, was shocked to find her childhood home had slid downhill, far from its original location.

“It took so long to find,” she said, through tears. “I don’t know where we can live now.”

Hesti, who lost her younger sister in the quake, sat on a pile of tiles that once covered part of her second-floor bedroom, surrounded by dusty jewelry and cosmetics.

“These are all the things I have left. My makeup, my necklaces, the pins for my hijab,” she sobbed, referring to the headgear worn by devout Muslim women.

Searchers arrived with dozens of excavators to help dig out bodies, while some residents made frequent trips to retrieve treasured belongings from the rubble of destroyed homes.

Government district officer Yassir Garibaldi, 43, pushed and pulled at a white car stuck under a collapsed porch.

“I bought this car for my parents,” he said. “They’re gone now but it’s still a good car. It’s the only thing of theirs I can recover.”

He was forced to watch helplessly as his parents and niece suffocated to death after the quake trapped them in a concrete hole flooded with water.

“I found them the morning after the earthquake,” Yassir said.

Ikhmal Yudanto, 15, stands on his mother's car at his destroyed house hit by an earthquake, in Balaroa neighbourhood, Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Ikhmal Yudanto, 15, stands on his mother’s car at his destroyed house hit by an earthquake, in Balaroa neighbourhood, Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

“I managed to speak with them, even gave them some water to drink. But they were crushed against each other, and the water must have been cold. After a while, they just stopped breathing.”

Others must reconcile themselves to the loss of loved ones.

In Petobo, about 12 km (7.5 miles) away, Ameriyah, 56, lost three of her children, a grandchild and a son-in-law. She has accepted it is unlikely that searchers will now uncover their remains.

“We’ve held funeral prayers for them, so we hope their souls will be at peace,” she said.

Some remain inconsolable.

“I don’t know what to do next. There’s nothing left for me here,” said Kaharuddin, the fruit vendor still looking for his daughter’s body under the pink concrete rubble of their former home.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Indonesia’s double disaster exposes earthquake lessons not learned

A man salvages wood from the ruins of a house in the Petobo neighbourhood which was hit by an earthquake and liquefaction in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

By Kanupriya Kapoor

PALU, Indonesia (Reuters) – The young man standing atop a mound of gray mud and debris on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, waiting for an excavator he hoped would dig out the bodies of his parents, voiced the exasperation many feel in his earthquake-plagued country.

“This is something that happens all the time in Indonesia. Why aren’t we getting better at handling it?” Bachtiar cried as the machine clanked through the ruins of someone’s kitchen in the city of Palu.

A 7.5-magnitude earthquake on Sept. 28 triggered a tsunami and extensive soil liquefaction, a phenomenon that turns soft soil into a seething mire, killing 2,073 people, according to the latest official estimate. Up to 5,000 more may be missing.

“In every disaster, there’s always a lesson to be learned,” Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the national disaster mitigation agency, said this week.

Nugroho conceded that Indonesia’s preparedness for disasters and capacity to respond still fall woefully short, not least because public funding is so low. He said the country’s disaster response budget is currently 4 trillion rupiah ($262 million) a year, equivalent to 0.002 percent of the state budget.

“We should not forget that there will be many disasters to come. It needs budget,” he said. “We need to learn from Japan as they are consistent in preparation.”

Critics say that, despite improvements at a national level in disaster management since a devastating Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, local authorities often lack know-how and equipment, and so rescue efforts are delayed until the military can reach the area.

Also, a lack of education and safety drills means people don’t know how to protect themselves when an earthquake strikes.

Palu was Indonesia’s second earthquake disaster of 2018. In August, the island of Lombok was rocked by quakes that flattened villages and killed more than 500 people.

It was also only the latest in a string of deadly tsunamis to hit the archipelago in 2005, 2006 and 2010. But none of those compare with the 2004 tsunami that killed some 226,000 people in 13 countries, more than 120,000 of them in Indonesia alone.

Indonesia straddles the southwestern reaches of the Pacific Ring of Fire and is practically defined by the tectonic plates that grind below its lush islands and blue seas.

The archipelago is strung out along a fault line under the Indian Ocean off its west coast. Others run northwards in the Western Pacific, including those under Sulawesi.

Volcanoes that dot the islands have brought fiery destruction and remarkable fertility, but rapid population growth over recent decades means that many more people are now living in hazardous areas.

For a graphic on destruction in Palu, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2IDFukK

‘NEW SCIENCE’

The biggest – and most unexpected – killer in Sulawesi was soil liquefaction, a phenomenon where intense tremors cause saturated sand and silt to take on the characteristics of a liquid.

The liquefaction swallowed up entire neighborhoods of Palu.

With communications and power down, rescuers focused first on Palu’s tsunami-battered beachfront in the north and on collapsed hotels and shopping centers in its business district.

Roads to the south, where the city has spread out as it has grown, were initially impassable – damaged or blocked by debris.

So it took days for rescuers to reach the neighborhoods of Balaroa, Petobo, and Sigi, where traumatized survivors said the ground came alive when the quake hit, swallowing up people, vehicles and thousands of homes.

Liquefaction is a fairly common characteristic of high-magnitude earthquakes, but the Indonesian government says there is still insufficient understanding of the phenomenon and how to reduce exposure to it.

“Liquefaction is a new science. There are no guidelines on how to handle it,” Antonius Ratdomopurbo, secretary of the Geological Agency at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, told reporters this week.

‘EDUCATION’

A tsunami warning system set up after 2004 failed to save lives in Sulawesi: it emerged too late that, due to neglect or vandalism, a network of 22 buoys connected to seabed sensors had been inoperable since 2012.

With power and communications knocked out in Palu, there was no hope of warning people through text messages or sirens that tsunami waves of up to six meters (20 feet) were racing towards the city.

But that highlights what some experts say is the most important lesson: No one in a coastal area should wait for a warning if they feel a big quake.

“The earthquake is the warning,” said Adam Switzer, a tsunami expert at the Earth Observatory of Singapore. “It’s about education.”

Unlike in quake-prone Japan and New Zealand, earthquake education and drills are only sporadic in Indonesia, so there is little public awareness of how to respond.

“The problem in tsunami early warning systems is not the structure … but the culture in our communities,” said Nugroho.

That culture includes a resilience that emerged within days as the people of Palu picked up the pieces of their lives.

“Palu is not dead,” is daubed on a billboard by the beach.

Eko Joko, his wife and two children have been salvaging wood and metal to reconstruct their flattened beachfront shop-house.

“I tell my family they have to be strong, not scared so that I can be strong,” said Joko, 41.

“This disaster has not destroyed us.”

(Additional reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe in Jakarta; Editing by Robert Birsel and John Chalmers)