Earthquakes rocked the island nation of Indonesia Saturday morning at 10:31 a.m. local time causing scared residents concern about a possible repeat of the catastrophic 2004 tsunami. Although initially pegged as a magnitude 7.3 quake, the U.S. Geological Survey is now classifying it as magnitude 7.1. The epicenter lies nearly 22 miles underwater in the Molucca Sea, about halfway between Ternate on North Maluku and Central Sulawesi. Officials issued tsunami warnings at first to coastal areas all around the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire, although no catastrophic waves materialized and the alert has now been cancelled.
Resting at the juncture of the Filipino and Eurasian tectonic plates in a region riddled with fault lines, earthquake-triggered tsunamis and volcanic activity are common. Records show a tsunami following an earthquake as far back as 1858 after a 7.4 magnitude quake. The memory of 170,000 deaths in the 2004 Aceh tsunami on Sumatra Island with tens of thousands more displaced in coastal regions all around the Indian Ocean, as well as an encore earthquake in July 2013 that killed 30 and left thousands homeless, put people on edge as disaster threatened to strike once again.
The earthquake caused a mass exodus from homes, some with cracks appearing in the walls, in the affected areas, as scared residents remembering the destruction left in the wake of the Sumatran tsunami in Indonesia’s Aceh Province in 2004, scrambled with their families for safety as the earth rocked. The strength and duration of the quake as well as the tsunami warning prompted coastal residents to flee for higher ground as is the protocol for such alerts.
The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, explained that the speed of tsunami waves gave Manado, North Sulawesi and Ternate, North Maluku Province residents only 30 minutes to evacuate before a wave could potentially hit shore with destructive force. Within an hour or two after that Maluku, Papua and Central Sulawesi could be hit. People ran to check the sea for unusual receding patterns that precede a tsunami, according to Toni Supit, head of the Sitaro district on the Sangihe Islands, even as officials warned residents to avoid the coast, although they did not evacuate the areas.
Warnings extended to Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, as well as the South Pacific islands causing Philippine seismologist, Julius Galgiano, to encourage local towns to organize a tsunami watch in coastal areas. However, by 1:45 p.m. Indonesian time, the Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) concluded that the one to three-foot waves expected to rock the area by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center had not materialized in the 187-mile radius surrounding the earthquake in the Indonesian islands or Philippines danger zone and rescinded the tsunami warning, which ended the scare and allowed residents to return to normal activities.
Tiny one to 3.5 inch waves did emanate from the underwater temblor to the Indonesian Maluku Islands, as well as on Halmahera and Sulawesi Island. However, they fall far short of the scary alternative and authorities have received no reports of damage or casualties causing them to declare the threat of collateral damage from an earthquake-inspired tsunami has passed. The BNPB continued to monitor the region for further seismic disturbances as aftershocks lingered and rocked the area, ranging from 4.3 to 5.8 on the Richter scale. The Jakarta Globe reports that local authorities in the affected areas will evaluate any remaining earthquake or tsunami threat.
By Tamara Christine Van Hooser