This is why Indonesia’s tsunami warning failed


Indonesia’s tsunami-warning system has been out of commission for six years, officials revealed in the wake of the series of giant waves that just killed at least 373 there — and as the country’s president ordered its disaster agency to finally purchase a new early system Monday.

Victims on Indonesia’s islands of Java and Sumatra were taken totally by surprise when the Anak Krakatau volcano eruptions caused an underwater landslide that sent the tsunami crashing into their coasts Saturday.

The nation of islands has a network of tsunami-detecting buoys — devices floating off the country’s coasts designed to submit warnings about big waves to its national disaster agency — but they have been broken since 2012, an agency spokesman said.

“Vandalism, lack of funds, technical faults have caused the current absence of the tsunami buoy system,” said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho in a series of tweets, according to Channel NewsAsia.

But experts say that even if the buoy system had been working, it probably wouldn’t have offered much warning because the volcano was so close to the islands’ coastline.

“Tsunami warning buoys are positioned to warn of tsunamis originated by earthquakes at underwater tectonic plate boundaries,” David Rothery of the UK’s Open University told the Jakarta Post.

Rescuers desperately search for survivors as death toll climbs from Indonesia tsunami
Rescuers desperately search for survivors as death toll climbs from Indonesia tsunami
“Even if there had been such a buoy right next to Anak Krakatau, this is so close to the affected shorelines that warning time would have been minimal given the high speeds at which tsunami waves travel.”

Indonesia does have an advance warning system for earthquakes, but Sutopo said the country needed one that was also “triggered by undersea landslides and volcanic eruptions.”

Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Monday ordered the agency to purchase new early detection and warning systems that will give people enough time to get to safety.