Sulawesi quake and tsunami

Calls for weather agency chief to quit

BMKG chief Dwikorita Karnawati says the agency did not end the tsunami warning prematurely, and she will not quit.
BMKG chief Dwikorita Karnawati says the agency did not end the tsunami warning prematurely, and she will not quit.

Members of House panel blame BMKG head for allegedly lifting tsunami alert prematurely

The head of Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) - which has been accused of prematurely ending the tsunami warning during the deadly disaster in Central Sulawesi - has been asked to resign.

It was alleged that another wave hit after the alert was lifted.

Members of a House commission that met officials from the agency on Wednesday blamed chief Dwikorita Karnawati for the death toll from last Friday's 7.4-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami, which has now hit 1,424.

The BMKG's negligence was a fatal mistake, said commission member Anthon Sihombing.

He said that Dr Dwikorita, 54, who has led the agency since November last year, was no longer fit to lead it, adding: "I firmly request she step down."

Her statements, he said, have been "very confusing, or very different from reality".

"In fact, as a leader, she should be able to report the conditions as clearly as possible," said Mr Anthon, who is part of a House panel looking into areas such as meteorology.

"The government in this case needs to pick someone who is competent, both in their work and in providing explanations to the public."

Dr Dwikorita, who has repeatedlydefended her agency's decision to lift the tsunami warning about half an hour after it was given, has refused to leave her post.

"If I resign, it means I'm a coward. It means I don't dare to face an unfinished problem," she said, as she apologised on behalf of her agency.

She reiterated that the BMKG did not end the tsunami warning prematurely, adding that there was the impression that another wave had hit after the all-clear was given because a video of the tsunami was uploaded after the warning was lifted.

Dr Dwikorita told local media on Sunday that three waves hit the beach of the provincial capital of Palu around dusk last Friday. It was only after the third wave - the highest one - hit that the tsunami warning ended minutes later at 6.37pm.

There were no more waves after the alert was lifted, she stressed.

The death toll is expected to rise further, as rescuers continue to sift through the ruins. About 150people are believed to be still trapped under mud and rubble.

The recent disaster has put disaster funding in the spotlight, as details emerged about agencies' struggles to maintain tsunami buoys and earthquake sensors.

None of Indonesia's tsunami buoys has operated since 2012, the spokesman for Indonesia's disaster mitigation agency BNBP, Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, revealed on Sunday, citing a decline in funding.

The commission on Wednesday recommended raising BMKG's budget, which had been falling steadily.

"We will get back to the government about the budget, to increase it especially for early detection equipment," said commission head Fary Djemi Franci, adding that a 1.7 trillion rupiah (S$155 million) budget was discussed at the meeting.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2018, with the headline 'Calls for weather agency chief to quit '. Print Edition | Subscribe