The tsunami that hit Central Sulawesi on Friday – where walls of water up to 6 metres and a magnitude 7.5 earthquake killed at least 832 people in the cities of Palu and Donggala – has highlighting the weaknesses of the existing warning system and low public awareness about how to respond to warnings.
The high-tech system of seafloor sensors, data-laden sound waves and fibre-optic cable was meant to replace a system set up after an earthquake and tsunami killed nearly 250,000 people in the region in 2004.
However inter-agency wrangling and delays in getting just 1 billion rupiah (US$95,500) to complete the project mean the system hasn’t moved beyond a prototype developed with $4.1 million from the US National Science Foundation.
“To me this is a tragedy for science, even more so a tragedy for the Indonesian people as the residents of Sulawesi are discovering right now”, Louise Comfort, a University of Pittsburgh expert in disaster management who has led the US side of the project, was quoted as saying by the Jakarta Post.
“It’s a heartbreak to watch when there is a well-designed sensor network that could provide critical information.”