1 October, 2018 1 October, 2018

Indonesian Tsunami Death Toll Moves Past 800

After crunching the numbers and reviewing the facts, scientists have expressed surprise at the size of the tsunami that devastated the Indonesian city of Palu at the weekend, concluding that the tsunami that was born from the quake was far more destructive than imagined. 

“We expected it might cause a tsunami, just not one that big,” said Jason Patton, a geophysicist at Humboldt State University in California. “When events like this happen, we are more likely to discover things that we haven’t observed before,” adds Patton. 

As it stands the confirmed death toll has risen to over 840.  Jusuf Kalla, the vice-president, has warned that the figure is expected to rise into the thousands. In just 30 minutes, by some accounts, waves as high as 18 feet crashed into the city, destroying buildings, smashing vehicles and obliterating everything in its wake. 

Thalib Bawano, a volunteer, told AFP news that three people had been rescued from the hotel rubble, where more than 50 people may be trapped.

“We also heard voices at several points, including a child, they were asking for help, but they are still there till now. We gave them motivation… so they can have spirit because they are trapped between life and death”, he said.

Of the deaths, 821 were in the city of Palu, an area which is home to 300,000 people. Hundreds of bodies have been found on beaches. Authorities fear many may have been washed out to sea, rescue efforts continue as people are still trapped in collapsed buildings. The authorities have said they will begin burying victims in mass graves, fearing disease could begin to spread.

Tsunamis of such a catastrophic nature are more often the result of megathrust quakes. This is when massive sections of the Earth’s crust become deformed vertically along a fault. This sudden displacement of large bodies of water, would create waves that travel at high speeds across ocean basins, resulting in destruction thousands of miles from the quake’s epicentre.

The fault that ruptured last Friday was a ‘strike-slip fault’. This type of fault causes the earth to move horizontal, which would not ordinarily create a tsunami like the one created over the last weekend of September.

The alternative possibility is that the tsunami was created indirectly, through the violent shaking of the earth during the quake. This may have caused an undersea landslide that would have displaced huge amounts of water, creating the resultant tsunami.


As it stands, Indonesia currently only makes use of seismographs, global positioning system devices and tide gauges to detect tsunamis. All of which are limited with regard to their effectiveness, said Louise Comfort, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh graduate school.

In the US, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has developed a high tech network of sensors on the ocean floor which can detect minute changes in pressure, indicating the potential passage of a tsunami. The data, relayed via satellite, can then be promptly analyzed, and an alarm is then raised if appropriate.

It has been reported that Indonesia poses a similar configuration of sensors. However, they are no longer in use as a result of poor maintenance or subsequently vandalism.

“It’s heartbreaking when you know the technology is there,” she added. “Indonesia is on the Ring of Fire — tsunamis will happen again.”

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