STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Video shows scale of destruction in Indonesia

Drone footage reveals the devastation left behind by a deadly tsunami and earthquake that struck the country's Central Sulawesi region.

Posted: Oct 3, 2018 9:50 PM
Updated: Oct 3, 2018 10:16 PM

The Indonesian government has defended itself against accusations it issued inadequate safety warnings as a powerful earthquake triggered a tsunami that killed at least 844 people.

The 7.5 magnitude earthquake hit Sulawesi island on Friday causing three-meter-high (10 foot) waves to surge over parts of its northwestern shore, with groups of people caught on the coastline, apparently unaware of the danger.

Experts underscored the difficulties of predicting tsunamis and raising safety alerts across Indonesia's vast archipelago of over 17,000 islands and 261 million people, but others pointed to a lack of government coordination and funding.

Online criticism from Indonesians centered on allegations that the country's meteorology and geophysics agency (BMKG) canceled the tsunami alert too early.

The alert was sounded shortly after 6 p.m. on Friday warning of potential waves of up to three meters. The warning was canceled at 6.36 p.m. However, the agency said the alert was lifted only after the tsunami hit.

In a statement, the head of the organization, Dwikorita Karnawati, called the allegations "not correct."

"Our work is based on computer system/artificial intelligence. The warning system was lifted with the approval of the 28 other countries along the Indian ocean," said Karnawati.

Phil Cummins, professor of natural hazards at Australian National University told CNN that while all the facts have yet to emerge, he doubted the warning sign issue was a major concern.

"During the time when a warning was potentially useful, it was apparently in effect, and that seems far more significant to me than having canceled it prematurely after the tsunami hit," he added.

Did the tidal buoys work?

Questions have focused on Indonesia's warning system, founded on a grid of 134 tide gauge stations and land seismographs, bolstered by education campaigns to train people in tsunami response.

Its warnings are transmitted by sirens and text messages.

"From the reports I've heard in the media, they (sirens) weren't operable because the power was knocked out by the earthquake," said Cummins. "If true, that's something that should really be looked into."

CNN has not been able to confirm these reports.

Experts also focused on the number of tidal gauge systems, which measure sea level at the coast, that are in use.

"134 tide gauge stations are not adequate to confirm tsunami generation for the country which perhaps has the most islands in the world," said Professor Costas Synolakis, director of the University of South California Tsunami Warning Center.

"To be effective, you need to have a tide gauge near every coastal community," he added.

Concerns over the government's readiness increased after Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesman for the country's national disaster agency (BNPB), admitted that none of the additional 22 deep water buoys connected to seafloor sensors to help monitor for tsunamis off Indonesia's coast had worked for the last six years.

The buoys are intended to work in addition to the tide gauge stations as part of Indonesia's Tsunami Early Warning System, designed after the devastating 2004 Aceh tsunami.

"Disaster funding continues to decline every year. The threat of a disaster increases, the incidence of disasters increases, the BNPB budget goes down," said Nugroho, according to a report by CNN Indonesia.

Shape of bay amplified waves

International experts said that while Indonesia's warning system might be improved, its geographic position and the nature of the disaster made tsunamis almost impossible to defend against.

"First we need to realize that each tsunami is unique and therefore very difficult to predict particularly where there are not long periods between the earthquake and tsunami," said Charitha Pattiaratchi, professor of oceanography at the University of Western Australia.

He added that the epicenter of the earthquake was on land, so had a very low probability of generating a tsunami, suggesting that it may have been triggered not by the earthquake itself but by a submarine landslide.

Pattiaratchi said that Palu, the largest city to be hit by the tsunami, is located at head of a long narrow bay, measuring around 30-40 km in length. "As the tsunami traveled up this bay it would have become highly amplified."

Adam Switzer, a tsunami expert at the Earth Observatory of Singapore, said that Indonesia's primary warning system -- a database model that runs various scenarios based on the early parameters of the earthquake-- "appears to have worked."

The earthquake sequence was complicated, he added, with multiple aftershocks and a very high likelihood of one or multiple landslides either above or below the ocean surface.

"This is a clearly a very unusual event and the satellite imagery and eyewitness videos are showing a number of unusual characteristics that will take months to work out," said Switzer.

"No tsunami warning system I know of can handle multiple shocks or landslides as it is just too physically and computationally complicated for current technology," he concluded.

Also, in Indonesia's case, its buoys and gauges are mostly positioned in areas considered more likely targets for tsunamis, which Sulawesi was not, said Pattiaratchi.

"This is not a region where large tsunamigenic earthquakes are reported to have occurred in the past," he added.

"With limited funds everyone have to take decisions to make priorities. So if there was no reason -- based on historic events -- then decisions are made."

Huntsville
Few Clouds
46° wxIcon
Hi: 56° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 42°
Florence
Clear
50° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 50°
Fayetteville
Clear
41° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 41°
Decatur
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 43°
Scottsboro
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 46°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 232506

Reported Deaths: 3457
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson30318491
Mobile19260356
Tuscaloosa12446148
Madison12204146
Montgomery12000232
Shelby971276
Baldwin819984
Lee750464
Morgan610447
Calhoun5964113
Etowah585764
Marshall579453
Houston503338
DeKalb460835
Cullman409636
Limestone400844
St. Clair396055
Elmore391061
Lauderdale378353
Walker348096
Talladega334042
Colbert294341
Jackson290524
Blount275436
Autauga261739
Franklin243633
Coffee230315
Dale225454
Dallas219631
Russell21753
Chilton216137
Covington212333
Escambia194031
Tallapoosa168590
Chambers167548
Clarke154919
Pike154714
Marion133935
Winston122523
Lawrence121436
Geneva11678
Marengo116424
Barbour116010
Pickens114118
Bibb113617
Butler113341
Randolph99521
Cherokee98524
Hale91531
Washington89818
Clay88823
Henry8386
Fayette83116
Lowndes78529
Monroe76811
Cleburne74214
Crenshaw70030
Macon69420
Bullock68919
Conecuh66814
Perry6686
Wilcox62318
Lamar6227
Sumter55322
Choctaw41713
Greene39917
Coosa3064
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 340476

Reported Deaths: 4266
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby45436634
Davidson40436402
Knox17413137
Rutherford16668150
Hamilton15723135
Williamson1050373
Sumner9016134
Wilson692474
Out of TN668748
Montgomery614481
Sullivan594689
Putnam572279
Washington550298
Maury541957
Blount508055
Madison5064104
Bradley476833
Sevier458530
Unassigned416314
Robertson352550
Tipton345136
Hamblen328257
Dyer307149
Gibson297761
Greene281868
Anderson271525
Dickson264427
Coffee260841
Carter250951
Bedford250328
Obion250347
Lawrence249632
Cumberland240035
McMinn232255
Warren226517
Hardeman220337
Roane217723
Loudon216517
Jefferson212631
Fayette212137
Weakley205934
Lauderdale198721
Monroe197042
Franklin189631
Trousdale189012
Wayne179310
Hawkins178234
Henderson178030
Macon175727
Hardin170925
White166417
Marshall163117
Carroll162832
Haywood159129
Rhea155530
Cocke153928
Overton150034
Campbell146521
Cheatham146316
Lincoln144413
Henry141517
McNairy137232
Smith136919
Johnson136721
Giles134242
Fentress116219
Lake11445
Bledsoe11405
Crockett110925
Hickman109417
DeKalb108220
Marion103117
Chester97919
Scott9407
Grainger91314
Decatur91012
Unicoi77123
Claiborne7509
Benton74914
Grundy73414
Lewis70411
Cannon6962
Union6865
Jackson6579
Morgan6546
Humphreys6407
Polk62914
Houston56819
Stewart54614
Clay52418
Sequatchie4895
Meigs45912
Perry45520
Moore3652
Pickett36512
Van Buren3382
Hancock1453

Community Events