Tsunami warning lifted after strong quake hits off Indonesia

Indonesia's disaster agency issued a tsunami warning for coastal communities in Morowali district. The warning was later lifted by the agency. (USGS website)
Updated 12 April 2019

Tsunami warning lifted after strong quake hits off Indonesia

  • Indonesia's geophysics agency issued a tsunami warning for coastal communities in Morowali district, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage
  • Indonesia is one of the most disaster-prone nations on Earth due to its position straddling the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, where tectonic plates collide

JAKARTA: A strong 6.8 magnitude earthquake rocked eastern Indonesia Friday, the United States Geological Survey said, triggering a tsunami warning and sending panicked residents fleeing from their homes.
The quake struck at a relatively shallow depth of 17 kilometres (10 miles) off the east coast of Sulawesi island, the USGS said, where a 7.5-magnitude quake-tsunami around the city of Palu killed more than 4,300 people last year.
Indonesia's disaster agency issued a tsunami warning for coastal communities in Morowali district, where residents were advised to move away from the coast.
The warning was later lifted by the agency, which had estimated the wave at under a half a metre (20 inches).
But the USGS warned that considerable damage was possible in poorly built or badly designed structures.
It was not immediately clear how much damage was caused by the quake or if there were any casualties.
Hapsah Abdul Madjid, who lives in Luwuk city in Banggai district, Central Sulawesi, where the tremor was felt strongly, said people fled to higher ground and the electricity was cut, adding that residents panicked as fears soared over an imminent tsunami.
The tremor off the eastern coast of Sulawesi is on the other side of the island from disaster-hit Palu, where residents still felt the quake despite being hundreds of kilometres away.
"I ran straight outside after the earthquake - everything was swaying," 29-year-old Palu resident Mahfuzah told AFP.
Thousands in Palu were still living in makeshift shelters six months after the late September disaster with at least 170,000 residents of the city and surrounding districts displaced and entire neighbourhoods still in ruins, despite life returning to normal in other areas of the tsunami-struck city.
The force of the quake saw entire neighbourhoods levelled by liquefaction - a process where the ground starts behaving like a liquid and swallows up the earth like quicksand.
Apart from the damage to tens of thousands of buildings, the disaster destroyed fishing boats, shops and irrigation systems, robbing residents of their income.
Indonesia has said the damage bill in Palu topped $900 million. The World Bank has offered the country up to $1 billion in loans to get the city back on its feet.
Indonesia is one of the most disaster-prone nations on Earth due to its position straddling the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, where tectonic plates collide.
Last year was a particularly tough one, however, with more than 2,500 disasters ranging from a series of deadly earthquakes to killer landslides and volcanic eruptions.
The sprawling archipelago is dotted with more than 100 volcanoes, including one in the middle of the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra islands that erupted in late 2018 and unleashed a tsunami that killed more than 400 people.


Dhaka awaiting UN green light to relocate 100,000 Rohingya to $275m island

Updated 22 January 2020

Dhaka awaiting UN green light to relocate 100,000 Rohingya to $275m island

  • Nearly 30,000 refugees volunteer for move to Bay of Bengal camp which critics fear is in cyclone zone

DHAKA: Authorities in Bangladesh were on Tuesday still awaiting the green light from UN inspectors to start the controversial relocation of 100,000 Rohingya refugees to a newly built $275 million island camp.

Although Dhaka has insisted the tiny island of Bhasan Char is ready to begin receiving families, UN technical experts have yet to carry out health and safety checks.

“Although everything is ready on the ground, we are yet to fix a date to begin the relocation process,” Shah Kamal, senior secretary of the Bangladeshi Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, told Arab News. 

A UN team had been scheduled to visit the island in November last year to assess the safety of facilities and amenities on offer, but the inspection was postponed after Bangladesh asked the UN to explain the reasons for the checks.

“The UN is yet to finalize its technical expert team. Once it has, we will organize the assessment visit,” Kamal said.

Bhasan Char is located in the Bay of Bengal and was formed with Himalayan silt in 2006. In recent months, several international rights organizations have urged Bangladesh not to relocate the Rohingya to the island due to it being in an area prone to cyclones.

Bangladeshi authorities claim it is safe and includes barracks to house the refugees, cyclone centers, schools, hospitals, mosques, community centers, and children’s playgrounds.

However, following the international pressure, Dhaka said it would only move refugees who had volunteered for the initiative. “So far, we have enrolled 5,200 families who have registered voluntarily for the relocation and the total refugee number will be around 30,000,” Kamal added.

The UN says it has already sent details to the Bangladeshi government regarding the technical team’s visit to the island. 

“We are awaiting confirmation from the government regarding alternative dates, as we have shared relevant information with the government of Bangladesh regarding the objectives of the proposed onsite visits, which are part of a broader assessment process,” Louise Donovan, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees at Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News. 

“The UN has emphasized the importance of undertaking independent and thorough technical and protection assessments that consider safety, sustainability, and protection issues prior to any relocation taking place. The assessment process should include onsite visits to Bhasan Char,” she added. 

Bangladesh has already spent $275 million to construct the facilities on the island and make it habitable for the Rohingya.

The country currently hosts more than 1,150,000 Rohingya in overcrowded camps at Cox’s Bazar which the UN describes as the largest refugee settlement in the world. Around 750,000 of them have fled from the state of Rakhine, in Myanmar since August 2017 following a brutal military crackdown by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya people.