Indonesia Tsunami Buoys Stolen or Broken, Disaster Agency Says

  • Warning comes after strong quake jolts region ravaged in 2004
  • Country needs $831 million to fund a five-year program

All 22 early warning buoys placed in Indonesian waters following the 2004 tsunami no longer work because of theft and vandalism, the national disaster agency said after the region escaped damage in a 7.8 magnitude quake late Wednesday.

The government has stopped funding the country’s tsunami master plan since 2014, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Authority, told reporters Thursday.

Indonesia’s 17,000 islands are especially prone to earthquakes because the country straddles the Ring of Fire, an arc of fault lines and volcanoes that causes frequent seismic upheavals. At least 160,000 people were killed on Sumatra Island as a result of the 9.1 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami on Boxing Day in 2004.

Nugroho said the country needs 11 trillion rupiah ($831 million) for a “tsunami master plan program” that would include mitigation, the building of evacuation shelters and improving the buoy system. President Joko Widodo came to office in 2014 promising to spend money on infrastructure and reboot the country’s ailing economy.

Wednesday night’s quake hit 500 miles (804 kilometers) southwest of Padang in Sumatra at a depth of about 15 miles, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The quake was felt across much of Sumatra, and the government issued a tsunami alert. Sirens went off in some coastal towns but not in others, according to television reporters on the scene. Residents in some areas walked or drove to higher ground, causing traffic snarls.

Foreign donors helped Indonesia set up the early warning system following the 2004 disaster, including buoys, sea-bed detection devices and sirens.

Even then some experts warned such an effort was misplaced given the cost of maintaining the system. They argued money would be better spent educating coastal residents on what to do when a powerful quake struck. Given the proximity of Sumatra to the fault line that runs along its western coast, residents need to flee immediately after a big tremor strikes, raising questions over the need for an early warning system in the first place.

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