Race for survivors as tsunami death toll soars

Amongst the rubble: Around 17,000 people have been evacuated from Palu. © Getty

Could the disaster in Indonesia have been prevented? On Friday, a devastating tsunami hit the city of Palu just as an official tsunami warning was called off. The death toll is still climbing.

In Indonesia on Friday, hundreds had gathered in the city of Palu for a beach festival. At around 6pm local time, the country was hit by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake.

A tsunami warning was issued, but it was called off again around half an hour later — just as a tsunami was devastating Palu.

Many people on the beach were swept away; in some places the waves were six metres high. “There was no time to save ourselves,” Dwi Haris told the Associated Press. He said he still did not know what had happened to his wife and child.

So far, 832 people have been reported dead. But Indonesia’s vice-president said that the death toll could reach the thousands.

Although the search for survivors has begun, relief workers are still struggling to access the city. Nearby Donggala was also badly hit, but so far little has been heard from the city.

Tsunamis are triggered when underwater earthquakes cause a sudden surge of water, forming powerful, fast-moving waves. Although they are rare, they are most commonly found in the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire”, which includes Indonesia.

Indonesia invested heavily in its warning systems after the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004. Now, many are questioning why they did not work on Friday.

Could this disaster have been avoided?

Unnatural disaster

Yes, say some. You cannot control nature, but you can be prepared. The tsunami was missed because the closest tidal monitor was 125 miles away from Palu. In a country so prone to earthquakes, that is simply not good enough. The government should invest in better technology.

Sometimes there is nothing you can do, say others. Even if the tsunami had been detected in Palu, the people on the beach would have had just minutes to get away. That is what makes natural disasters so scary — they are unpredictable and inescapable.

You Decide

  1. Would you go on holiday to Indonesia, knowing its high risk of earthquakes?

Activities

  1. Create a poster or organise an event to help raise money for an Indonesian disaster relief fund.

Some People Say...

“Nature does nothing uselessly.”

Aristotle

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Over 150 aftershocks followed the earthquake, which hit Indonesia around dusk on Friday. Most of the deaths recorded have been in Palu, where rescue workers are searching for survivors.
What do we not know?
How many people have been killed, or how many buildings have been destroyed. Although the army has been sent in to help, we do not know how long the rescue effort will take.

Word Watch

Magnitude
The earthquake magnitude scale measures the severity of earthquakes from one to 10.
Tsunami
Large waves, or a sudden rise of sea level at the coast.
Ring of Fire
A 25,000-mile horseshoe shape which stretches around the rim of the Pacific Ocean. It includes the west coast of North and South America, and much of East Asia. Indonesia sits directly in the Ring of Fire.
Boxing Day
On December 26, 2004, a tsunami spread throughout the Indian ocean, devastating parts of Indonesia, India, Thailand and others. Around 227,000 people were killed.

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