Sulawesi quake: Tsunami alert not revoked early, says Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency BMKG

A general view of debris left in the wake of a tsunami and earthquake in Palu, Sulawesi, on Oct 1, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) is standing by its decision to end the tsunami warning during the first hours of the 7.4-magnitude earthquake that jolted Central Sulawesi last Friday (Sept 28).

There have been concerns that the agency had ended or revoked the tsunami warning too early, as high waves eventually hit several areas in the province, including the provincial capital of Palu, where hundreds were gathered for a beach party.

BMKG chairman Dwikorita Karnawati said that the decision to lift the tsunami warning was made based on the information the agency received, including a field observation from a staff member of BMKG's office in Palu.

"The staff member reported that he had seen traces of tsunami waves at the harbour at around 6.27pm local time, including a stranded boat. At that time, the height of the water at the harbour was around 30cm," she told The Jakarta Post on Sunday (Sept 30).

BMKG, Ms Dwikorita said, also analysed mobile phone footage showing a tsunami hitting a coastal area of Palu that circulated online last Friday. The footage purportedly shows a number of restaurants near Palu Grand Mall being swept away by the wave.

"According to our analysis, three waves hit Palu's beach around dusk, with the third one and the highest sweeping away houses and kiosks. The waves hit the beach within a span of 2.5 minutes," Ms Dwikorita said, adding that the tsunami alert ended at 6.37pm, minutes after the third wave hit land.

She also dismissed claims that there were more tsunami waves after the alert ended.

"After the third wave, there were no more tsunami waves," she said.

Some local media reports had put the latest death toll at 1,203 as of Sunday night, while Vice-President Jusuf Kalla expects it to hit thousands as recovery efforts continue in the days ahead.

The disaster has so far displaced more than 16,000 people, who are taking shelter at 24 camps across the region.

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