As he toured a tsunami-devastated area of western Java on Monday, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said he had ordered a government agency to acquire early-warning systems for alerting the public, while authorities revised the toll from Saturday’s disaster to at least 373 people killed.
The National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) also confirmed that an undersea landslide from a volcanic eruption had caused the watery disaster along coastal areas of the Sunda Strait, which separates the large islands of Java and Sumatra.
An agency spokesman said it lacked buoys in the sea equipped with sensors for detecting tsunamis unleashed under such circumstances, and its network of buoys for sensing undersea earthquakes that can churn tsunamis were out of order since 2012.
“In the future, I have also ordered the BMKG to purchase early warning systems that can provide early warnings to all of us so that people can be alert,” Jokowi told reporters as he visited tsunami-hit Pandeglang regency in Java’s Banten province, referring to the national Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysical Agency.
In Saturday’s tsunami, the authorities were not adequately equipped to anticipate it or warn the public to evacuate because such a phenomenon was usually triggered by an undersea temblor, the president said.
“This is really beyond BMKG’s estimation because, previously, there was usually an earthquake first,” Jokowi said.
Rosa Diarti, a resident of Labuhan sub-district in Pandeglang who was in the crowd, said she was “very happy” that Jokowi came.
“This is the first time we see the face of President Jokowi in person,” she told BenarNews. “The president asked us to keep our spirits high. Thank God, the President can take the time to visit us here.”
No early warning
Search teams were scattered across the disaster-zone Monday, as they combed through the devastation, looking for survivors and recovering more bodies, the disaster management agency said.
Searchers, vehicles and heavy equipment reached some places that were hard to access earlier, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the BNPB, said in a statement.
As of late Monday, nearly 400 people were confirmed dead, more than 1,400 were injured and at least another 128 were missing, the agency said. Altogether, at least 5,665 people had been displaced and more than 660 homes damaged by the tsunami.
“The tsunami buoy network in Indonesian waters has not operated since 2012,” Sutopo said via messages posted on Twitter, noting that vandalism and a limited budget had prevented the agency from replacing buoys in the national Tsunami Early Warning System.
On the night of Saturday’s disaster, he said, there was no system in place to detect this particular tsunami.
“The absence of early-warning equipment caused the tsunami … to be undetected beforehand. There were no signs of the arrival of the tsunami so people did not have the time to evacuate,” Sutopo said in a tweet.
The maritime early-warning system was installed following a massive undersea quake and tsunami off western Sumatra in December 2004. It was designed to detect undersea tremors from seismic activity, but Indonesia does not have a system for anticipating tsunamis created by volcanic eruptions, Sutopo said.
Saturday’s eruption originated at Anak Krakatau, a volcanic island in the Sunda Strait and a geological offshoot of Krakatau (also known as Krakatoa), whose catastrophic eruption over two days in August 1883 is believed to have killed tens of thousands of people.
“From the east wind season to the west wind season, the volcano is always like this, always growling, lava always coming out,” a local fisherman, Santani, told BenarNews, referring to Anak Krakatau.
The volcano erupted 24 minutes before the tsunami struck on Saturday night, authorities said.
“Indonesia must build an early-warning system that is generated by underwater landslides & volcanic eruptions,” Sutopo said via Twitter.
“Indonesia does not yet have a tsunami early warning system caused by underwater landslides and volcanic eruptions. There is currently an earthquake early warning system. The system is running well,” he added.
The Dec. 22 disaster struck three months after a 7.4-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province on Sept. 28, killing more than 2,000.
“I was chilling out at home, watching TV. Then I heard something like the sound of a ship,” a local resident by the name of Suryana told BenarNews.
“I went out and I saw this white line on the ocean. I looked at it, wondering was it a wave or just the reflection of the moon. It was a wave rising. Then I ran away, only in my underpants.”
Another local, Sahmin said his family roused him from sleep when the giant wave struck his home.
“When I woke up the water was up to my waist, I was dragged by that wave,” he told Benar.
“I was dragged here and there, holding onto a border wall concrete panel, for two hours,” he said, referring to a barricade that separates a beach front from a resort area.
Indonesia is located in the tectonically active Ring of Fire – an area in the basin of the Pacific Ocean – and frequently suffers earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
On Dec. 26, 2004, about 130,000 people died in the nation’s westernmost province of Aceh when a magnitude 9.1 earthquake struck off the west coast of Sumatra, spawning a series of devastating tsunamis.
Nurdin Hasan in Banda Aceh, Indonesia contributed to this report.