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Oceanographer Dwi Susanto Provides a View from his Earthquake Stricken Hometown in Indonesia

6/8/06

Jetis I Elementary School

Jetis I Elementary School meeting outside after May's earthquake in Indonesia.

Homes destroyed by the earthquake

Homes destroyed by the magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Jetis District, Bantul Regency of Indonesia.

Dwi Susanto is a senior staff associate and director of Indonesian research coordination at Lamont-Doherty who specializes in studying tropical ocean circulation. He was visiting Jakarta recently when an earthquake struck his home town on the island of Java. He contributed this report on conditions in Indonesia.

Report from Indonesia

On Saturday morning May 27, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.3 on the Richter scale struck the south coast of Yogyakarta Province in the south central part of the Indonesian island of Java. As of June 6, the death toll according to the Indonesian government had surpassed 5,800 people, with 3,000 from Bantul Regency (District), and close to 38,000 injured. The worst-hit areas in the regency are Imogiri and Jetis, where my parents live.

Luckily both of them are fine because they had left Yogyakarta for the capital Jakarta the day before the earthquake to meet me. Had they stayed in Yogyakarta, they may not have survived because the roof and some walls of their house collapsed. Unfortunately, the news was not so good for many of our neighbors — more than 50 people have died within a radius of less than one-half mile. Unlike the U.S., home insurance is not common in Indonesia, therefore it will take some time to rebuild their homes and even longer to get over the trauma.

Thousands of people in Bantul are currently living in tents, in part because so many homes have been destroyed or are no longer safe, but also because there have been more than 400 small tremors since the main earthquake with magnitudes ranging from 1 to almost 5. Unfortunately, living conditions are made even worse by heavy rains over the past several days. It is a bit unusual to have continuous rain at this time of year, which usually marks the start of the dry season. This is probably due to a weak "La Niña," which tends to prolong the rainy season in this part of the world.

One of the questions that scientists are asking is what involvement, if any, recent volcanic activity at Mt. Merapi had on the earthquake. Merapi is an active volcano located about 15 miles north of Yogyakarta, and the question many scientists are asking is did activity there trigger the earthquake or vice versa? And more importantly for the people of the area, can we accurately predict activity on Merapi? [On June 6, more than 10,000 people were evacuated from near Mt. Merapi after the volcano showed signs of increased activity. ed.]