With more and more video of the Indonesian tsunami devastation being shared online, people are wondering why more wasn’t being done to warn people. It appears the local government failed to properly fund a warning system, coming up $104,000 short to completely implement it. The high-tech system of various seafloor sensors and fiber-optic cables were meant to replace a system set up after an earthquake and tsunami killed nearly 230,000 people in the region in 2004. A prototype was developed by the US National Science Foundation for $3million, but inter-agency wrangling and delays in getting just $104,000 to complete it meant the system never became a reality.
Without the new system funded, officials relied on an old system dependent on tidal gauge information. Indonesia’s tsunami warning system consists of a network of 134 tidal gauge stations augmented by land-based seismographs with sirens in about 55 locations and a system to disseminate warnings by TXT message. When the 7.5 quake hit just after 6pm local time on Friday, the local meteorology and geophysics agency issued a tsunami alert, warning of potential for waves up to 9 feet tall. It ended the warning at 6.36pm. While it’s unclear when exactly the tsunami hit Palu, the agency says the warning was lifted after the tsunami hit. However, power outages after the earthquake struck meant that sirens meant to warn residents to evacuate did not work. Even so, the warning wasn’t adequate. Not everyone knew of the danger and the actual tsunami was far worse than predicted at nearly 20 feet, double the size warned.
The death & destruction in this video shared by Muhammad Yasir Arafat of yesterday’s #tsunami in Indonesia is gut-wrenching. But to hear the screams of “tsunami” evolve to sobs as the destruction sinks-in is absolutely heartbreaking. ??? #earthquake pic.twitter.com/P9Jv0VxBWa
— the Weatherboy (@theWeatherboy) September 30, 2018
Officials peg the current death toll from the earthquake and tsunami at 830, although officials warn it could grow into the thousands as more bodies are found. Because bodies are decomposing in the tropical environment, officials are digging large holes to dispose of bodies in mass graves. Officials plan to bury 300 in one mass grave today.