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Stay Calm, Local Scientists Urge, After Sumatra Quake and Tsunami Warning

January 18, 2010

Dessy Sagita

A local expert on Monday urged the public not to worry too much after prominent European seismologists warned that there was the potential for a massive earthquake and tsunami in Sumatra.

“We can’t predict when an earthquake will happen,” Fauzi, a geophysicist from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, told the Jakarta Globe on Monday.

He also added that it was impossible to predict imminent tsunamis, let alone ones that might take place sometime in the next 20 or more years.

“If somebody says that a tsunami will occur tomorrow, next week, or next month, that’s totally impossible; nobody can tell the exact time,” he said.

A team of seismologists led by Irish scientist John McCloskey said on Sunday that an 8.5-magnitude, wave-generating quake capable of killing as many people as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami could strike off Sumatra, with Padang in the firing line.

In a letter published by the scientific journal Nature Geoscience, McCloskey and his team explained that the threat comes from a relentless buildup of pressure over the last two centuries on a section of the Sunda Trench, one of the world’s most notorious earthquake zones, which runs parallel to the western Sumatra coast.

Without giving a time frame for the event, the letter said, “The threat of a great tsunamigenic earthquake with a magnitude of more than 8.5 on the Mentawai patch is unabated.”

But Fauzi said the public, especially those living in West Sumatra and still reeling from last year’s devastating quake, should not be too worried because there was no time frame mentioned in the article.

Ade Edward, head of West Sumatra’s Disaster Management Agency, said that instead of worrying, the public should instead focus on disaster mitigation.

“We should be preparing ourselves in case the disaster really happens,” he said, adding that the government was working to develop a tsunami early detection system and was busy constructing as many quake-proof buildings as it could.

Ade maintained that the West Sumatran government has been attempting to warn its people about the possibility of another earthquake and tsunami.

“We told them about the situation we are facing and we offered them two choices — relocate or stay and adapt to face the upcoming challenge,” he said.

In March 2005, McCloskey warned that the Dec. 26, 2004, quake near Aceh had created major stresses in an adjoining part of the fault to the south. He stated that a temblor in the region of 8.5 magnitude with the capacity to generate a tsunami was imminent and urged the authorities to beef up preparations. Within two weeks, on March 28, 2005, a quake measuring 8.6 erupted at Simeulue Island, generating a three-meter tsunami.

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