Indonesian Tsunami: Be it earthquakes or volcanoes, nothing spares the archipelago from deluge

The latest tsunami in Indonesia is yet another product of the geographical disadvantage that the country has, because of being located on the Pacific Ring of Fire

 |  6-minute read |   24-12-2018
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It was a tsunami of tragedies that struck the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra on Saturday night. For one, the wall of water that smashed the houses along the Sunda Strait caught residents completely unaware and unprepared.

The tsunami was caused by a volcano that erupted on the Anak Krakatau island — considered the 'child' of the violently eruptive Krakatoa Island— that lies on the Sunda Strait that connects Java and Sumatra, thereby causing maximum damage to both the islands.

main_indonesia-tsuna_122418040042.jpgA plume of ashes rises as Anak Krakatau erupts in Indonesia, December 23, 2018. (Photo: REUTERS)

For the people of the Indonesian archipelago, this crippling geographical disadvantage is a regular feature.  

Indonesia sits on the geologically active 'Pacific Ring of Fire' and is regularly hit by earthquakes. The 'Ring of Fire' is a horseshoe-shaped area along the edges of the Pacific Ocean.

This 40,000 km stretch has 452 volcanoes — over three-fourths of the total active and dormant volcanoes in the world, and is responsible for 90 per cent of the earthquakes around the globe.

Here are the first visuals of the eruption as recorded by the Indonesian news agency Kumparan:

The Ring is shaped like an arc comprising mountains, volcanoes and oceanic trenches that stretch from New Zealand, northward along the eastern edge of Asia, then east across the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, and then south along the western coasts of North and South America — effectively, the entire globe barring Africa and Europe.

The Ring comprises some of the deadliest volcanic mountains that are active as of now.

main_pacific_ring_of_122418041000.jpgThe Pacific Ring of Fire. (Photo: CIA World DataBank II)

main_eqs_1900-2013_w_122418041208.jpgEarthquakes between 1900 and 2013 — notice that the major quakes have happened along the Ring of Fire. (Photo: United States Geological Survey)

These include:

- The Andes of South America: The longest continental mountain range in the world runs for nearly 9,000 kilometres from north to south along the western edge of the continent. The Andean Volcanic Belt is within the mountain range and broken up into four volcanic zones that include such active volcanoes as Cotopaxi and Cerro Azul. It is also home to the highest active volcano — Ojos del Salado.

- Popocatepetl in Mexico City: Popocatepetl is an active volcano in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, located near Mexico City. The volcano is considered to be amongst the most dangerous in the world. It sits next to some major population hubs — a large eruption could potentially kill millions of people.

- Mt. Saint Helens, Skamania County, Washington, USA: A part of the Cascade Mountains in the United States' Pacific Northwest, Mt. Saint Helens erupted most recently in 1980. The mountains are a 1300-kilometre stretch called the Cascade Volcanic Arc and contain 13 major volcanoes and nearly 3,000 other volcanic features.

- Aleutian Islands, Alaska: The Aleutian Islands are an archipelago comprising of 14 large and 55 small islands — all formed because of volcanic activity. The Aleutians contain 52 volcanoes, with some of the most active being Cleveland, Okmok and Akutan. The last eruption occurred in 2016 on the Chuginadak Island of the archipelago, and there are warning of minor activity or eruption even today.

- Mt. Fuji, Japan: Perhaps the most famous of the volcanoes on the Ring of Fire. It is located on the Japanese island of Honshu and is the tallest mountain in Japan, besides being the world's most visited mountain. While it last erupted in 1707, experts issued a warning in mid-2018 that a shift in the tectonic plates (caused by an earthquake in March 2011) had increased the likelihood of an eruption.

- Mt. Ruapehu, New Zealand: It is the largest active volcano in New Zealand and the highest point on the country’s North Island — standing at 2797 metres above sea level. New Zealand's most active volcano is located in the southern section of the Taupo Volcanic Zone and last erupted in 2007. Warnings have been periodically issued since then, the most recent being in April 2016.

- Krakatoa, Indonesia: Krakatoa — also known as Krakatau in the local parlance — is a volcanic island in the Indonesian province of Lampung. It is best known for the massive eruption on August 27, 1883, that killed 36,000 people and was heard 2,800 miles away — considered the loudest sound in modern history.

In fact, that eruption led to the formation of a new island — Anak Krakatau — in 1927, that emerged from the caldera formed in 1883.

It is this Anak Krakatau that erupted on Saturday, causing the tsunami.

The latest toll is at least 280 people confirmed dead and hundreds more injured due to the tsunami. The unfortunate archipelago witnessed an earthquake on the tourist island of Lombok near Bali in August which killed more than 500 people on July 29, 2018, along the slopes of the volcanic Mount Rinjani.

main_indonesia-tsuna_122418040157.jpgA car is seen among ruins after a tsunami hit Carita beach in Pandeglang, Banten province, Indonesia, on Sunday. (Photo: Reuters)

The next tragedy struck in September this year when an earthquake hit the Sulawesi island, reducing large towns to rubble. There were 170 aftershocks and a tsunami. The official death toll was reported to be more than 2,000 — however, it is feared the figure could be as high as 5,000. Here are some of the major quakes and tsunamis in recent years before the most recent one on Saturday:

- 2004: A quake of 9.1 magnitude on the western coast of Indonesia’s Aceh province in northern Sumatra on December 26, 2004, triggered a tsunami that struck 14 countries. The toll was 2,26,000 people along the Indian Ocean coastline, more than half of them in Aceh alone.

- 2005: A series of strong quakes hit the western coast of Sumatra in late March and early April. Hundreds died in Nias Island, off the coast of Sumatra.

- 2006: A shallow quake rocked the area around the ancient city of Yogyakarta in Java, killing at least 5,500 and damaging 1,50,000 homes.

- 2006: An earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale hit the south of Java, triggering a tsunami. Since Java is Indonesia’s most populated island, the toll was disproportionately high, with nearly 700 people dead.

- 2009: A 7.6 magnitude quake struck near the city of Padang — the capital of West Sumatra, killing more than 1,100 people.

- 2010: A 7.5 magnitude quake hit the Mentawai islands off Sumatra. This triggered a tsunami of up to 10 meters that destroyed dozens of villages and killed around 300 people.

- 2016: A shallow earthquake hit the Pidie Jaya in Aceh. While no tsunami was triggered, over 100 people were killed by fallen buildings — leading to a panic that reminded people of the 2004 earthquake and tsunami.

- July 2018: Major quake hit Lombok near Bali, killing more than 500 people.

- September 2018: Powerful quakes and a consequent tsunami hit the city of Palu, on the Sulawesi island killing more than 2,000 people.

- December 22, 2018: A Tsunami triggered possibly by the volcanic eruptions in Anak Krakatau has recorded a death toll of at least 280 people. More casualties estimated.

One can only hope that nature is more kind to the Indonesians, and those on the Ring of Fire, in the new year of 2019.

Also read: Why Saturn could soon lose its rings


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