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Heroism and warning in Indonesia quake and tsunami

October 2, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

With emergency teams struggling to rescue guests from a collapsed eight-storey hotel after an earthquake and tsunami struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, an air traffic controller is being hailed as a hero and Indonesia’s vice-president, Jusuf Kalla, has issued a warning on the death toll.

Kalla said the toll could reach into the thousands, after the disaster that hit Sulawesi and its cities of Palu and Donggala.

Meanwhile, amid widespread devastation, young Palu air traffic controller Anthonius Gunawan Agung is being hailed a hero for staying in his crumbling tower to ensure a passenger plane with hundreds aboard could take off safely.

According to Britain’s Sun newspaper, the controller, aged just 21, stayed behind as others fled. Batik Air flight 6321 was taking off when the island of Sulawesi started to tremble. Only when the flight was safely airborne did Agung jump from the violently shaking four-storey building. He was rushed to hospital but reportedly died from internal injuries the next day.

Rescue efforts continue for dozens of people still trapped in the collapsed ruins of the Roa Roa hotel in Palu, with voices heard  from the wreckage.

More than 150 aftershocks followed the 7.5-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that hit Sulawesi on Friday. People buried in the rubble then faced a wall of water two storeys high coming at them at express train speed.

The violent earthquake and subsequent shocks caused thousands of homes, hotels, shopping malls and several mosques to collapse.

The tsunami came in two pulses. In the deep ocean, tsunamis can move as fast as a jet aircraft, about 800 km/h, crossing an ocean in less than a day. The deeper the water; the faster the tsunami. As the waves enter shallow water near land they slow down, but still travel at the speed of a car, about 30 or 50 km/h, making it impossible to outrun the seawater and debris.


Philip Froelich, a professor of oceanography at Florida State University, told the New York Times: “You’re talking about a wall of water that’s 10 meters high, if that wave is two miles [3.2km] long into the ocean, it’s basically like a hundred tanks coming across you. Even though it’s a fluid, it operates like a solid hammer.”

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) issued the following advisory:

On 28 September 2018, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, strong aftershocks and a tsunami hit Central Sulawesi. Communications and transport infrastructure in the Palu area have suffered damage. Australians wishing to depart the area should check with their local travel provider. Monitor media and follow the instructions of local authorities. The level of our advice has not changed. Exercise a high degree of caution in Indonesia, including Bali and southern Lombok. Reconsider your need to travel to northern Lombok, the Gili Islands and Central Sulawesi and Papua provinces.

In the following video clip, a man on the second floor of a building repeatedly yells a warning to people in the street below as the tsunami approaches. He can see it coming in, and his camera catches it throughout, but the people on the ground can’t see the tsunami because of buildings between them and the sea.

The man repeatedly calling “tsunami” probably saved quite a few people’s lives. Pedestrians hearing him can be seen running up stairs to higher ground. The clip is very moving and at one point the man’s voice breaks and he sobs.

Various charities are collecting to help the victims, including Save the Children Australia. A statement on that can be accessed here.

Written by Peter Needham

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