By Phil Liu and Lori Dengler
Jun 26, 2007, 07:59
First came news of bedraggled villagers in Aceh tearing down the beach warning sirens after false alarm after false alarm sent them screaming for their lives to higher ground, only to have to return again. Ironically the failed tsunami warning sirens cost lives through resulting panic stricken induced traffic accidents and heart attacks, yet never saved a single soul from drowning. The coastal villagers of Aceh decided they would rather risk drowning if a tsunami ever did come then face the anguish of yet more false alarms, so they pulled the sirens down. Next came tsunami warnings from the Indonesian meteorology office as a result of medium quakes along a lateral fault line near Sulawesi; both factors making even a ripple unlikely. Once it was obvious the waves did not exist by token of the fact they would have hit shore already, only then did the so called Indonesian experts lift the warnings.
Next came details of the stealth tsunami which took more than 600 lives last year in Aceh. Because of the vertical movement of the plates that lie off Java and Bali, these can cause tsunamis such as the massive one of Boxing Day 2004. The less deadly yet still lethal 2006 tsunami emitted from the same fault line and was as the result of a 7.8 magnitude under sea quake which very few people felt on land because it was slow moving. So unlike the Sulawesi false alarms, no warnings were given by the Indonesian meteorology office as no "experts" realised the enormity of the situation. The deadly 2006 stealth tsunami it seems resulted from a number of factors, including subterranean land slides where everything culminated together to produce a wave as high as 21 metres in places when it came ashore.
Then came more real tidal waves which the newly installed warning system failed to detect or worse, the Indonesian authorities took the chance of turning off in order to try and minimize adverse publicity in the hope the waves would amount to nothing. We are talking about the waves as large as 8 meters high that slammed into Java and Bali in May this year resulting from a combination of severe Indian Ocean storms and extremely high lunar tides. The deadly four storey high waves should have triggered the tsunami warning system but did not, why? The damage from these tidal waves was severe, with many Jimbaran Bay beach restaurants being swept away. It was perhaps fortunate that Bali's tourism business is so bad, otherwise foreign visitors may well have been killed.
Finally the end of the road for Indonesia’s and Bali’s lies about being able to warn people on the beach came from the tsunami expert who led the team to Java a week after the 2006 disaster, Hermann Fritz, a Georgia Institute of Technology professor. Fritz said it was always going to be difficult to provide early tsunami warnings for Indonesia because it was so close to an active earthquake zone. He said that in some locations, such as the Hawaiian Islands, warning systems were useful because tsunamis caused by continental earthquakes took hours to reach the islands. But that was not the case with Java and Bali where they would only take about 20 minutes.
OK, as the pundits will now focus on, you stand more chance of being killed in a traffic accident in your own country then you do of being harmed by a tsunami during a beach holiday in Bali, but that is not the point. First you reduce the total risk in your life in order to stand more chance of living to a ripe old age, so every extra risk point counts against your favour. Second it is the fact the Balinese tourism industry and Indonesian Government lie about the tsunami warning system in order to dishonestly allay potential foreign visitors’ fears. It is therefore not so much the risk of being killed by a tsunami, but the disregard Bali and Indonesia have for your lives that should tell you to steer clear and spend your valuable holiday dollars elsewhere.