TOPICS > World

Survivors of Indonesia’s Deadly Earthquake Face Threat of Volcano Eruption

May 29, 2006 at 5:45 PM EST
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Now, a closer look at the deadly earthquake in Indonesia. First, what caused the quake that struck the island of Java on Saturday? And is there a connection with the increased activity at the nearby Mount Merapi volcano?

To help us understand what’s going on, I’m joined by Ken Hudnut, a geophysicist in the Pasadena office of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Welcome, Mr. Hudnut.

The area of the Pacific that we’re talking about is commonly loosely known as the Ring of Fire. Can you describe what that means and why it’s called that?

KEN HUDNUT, U.S. Geological Survey: Well, in general, where plates are coming together — in this case, the Australian plate is coming underneath the Sunda plate along the Sunda Arc, and so there’s an association of earthquakes and volcanic activity where those plates are coming together.

GWEN IFILL: When we last heard of natural disasters happening in this region of the world, it was the 2004 tsunami. Help our viewers understand where this is in relation to that and whether there is any connection at all?

KEN HUDNUT: There is certainly a connection. The same plate boundary, but farther to the northwest, ruptured in a magnitude 9.2 earthquake in December of 2004. That ruptured from the northern tip of Sumatra towards the north, up through the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

In March of 2005, there was a magnitude 8.7 earthquake that ruptured off Sumatra, along the Mentawai Islands between Simuelue and Nias Islands.

This activity, this earthquake, and the eruptions of Mount Merapi are down on the island of Java, which is quite far to the southeast and actually east of Jakarta by about 250 miles.

Mount Merapi's threat

Ken Hudnut
U.S. Geological Survey
Although there does seem to be some association between the earthquake activity and the level of activity at the volcano; however, the volcano had been more active starting in early May, so well before the earthquake occurred.

GWEN IFILL: Tell us about the activity at Mount Merapi. Apparently that is what scientists and residents alike have been bracing for.

KEN HUDNUT: That's right. That volcano has erupted almost 70 times since historical records began in about the mid-1500s.

Within the first few centuries of records, it only erupted infrequently, but then, in the last two centuries, it's been erupting 20, 25 times per century. It renewed its activity and, in 1930, had a devastating eruption. And then, in 1992 through 2002, it was erupting quite frequently with, again, a fatal eruption, 43 people killed in 1994.

So the renewed activity has been a great concern, and people were evacuated starting on May 11. And then the evacuations were increased, and the volcano was put at its highest level alert May 13th.

So that all preceded this earthquake. Remember, this is in one of the most densely-populated areas of the world.

GWEN IFILL: Is there any connection between this volcano, its increased activity, and then what we saw happen over the weekend with the earthquake?

KEN HUDNUT: They're connected in the sense that, as the plate is going down, material melts and forms the volcano. This earthquake actually happened within the same crustal material of the island of Java that the volcano is within, instead of happening on the interface between the two plates.

Where the Australian plate is going down under the island of Java right now, it's at a depth of 100 to 200 kilometers. So this earthquake was shallow and within the Earth's crust, in the same area where the material is making its way up into Merapi volcano.

GWEN IFILL: But one did not necessarily trigger the other?

KEN HUDNUT: That's right, although there does seem to be some association between the earthquake activity and the level of activity at the volcano; however, the volcano had been more active starting in early May, so well before the earthquake occurred.

But you can imagine how the earthquake might decompress or compress the rocks surrounding the volcano and allow the magma to move differently than it had been before the earthquake, so there certainly can be a physical basis for a connection between the earthquake and the volcanic activity.

GWEN IFILL: We reported that this was of 6.3 magnitude, this earthquake. Is that a significant size?

KEN HUDNUT: That's the correct magnitude we've gotten from teleseismic or distant recordings of the earthquake, and so that's an accurate number.

Now, this is a much smaller earthquake than the ones that triggered the tsunami December of 2004. However, because it was within the crust, it was shallow and close to these population centers, and so that's why it was so devastating. We had up to magnitude 8.0, or intensity 8.0, shaking right in this very large, dense population center of Yogyakarta there.

GWEN IFILL: Was it also damaging because of the kind of population center that it hit?

KEN HUDNUT: Well, it was in an area with all different kinds of construction, probably. I saw on news footage some wood-frame construction that appeared to be damaged.

Of course, un-reinforced masonry or concrete block without reinforcing rods is the type that's most susceptible to shaking damage, and there was a lot of evidence in the news footage that I saw of that type of construction falling down. That's quite common. And in intensity 8.0 shaking, that kind of construction just won't last.

GWEN IFILL: All right, Ken Hudnut with the U.S. Geological Service, thank you very much.

KEN HUDNUT: My pleasure.

The earthquake's impact

Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat
Indonesian Ambassador
What happened was that the earthquake came earlier. And all the preparations shifted to this incident, this tragic incidents, and we hope all that we can sustain the relief effort by all the people that are involved.

GWEN IFILL: Now, with a look at the human toll, we turn to Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat, Indonesia's ambassador to the United States.

Mr. Ambassador, welcome.

SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT, Ambassador, Indonesia: Thank you very much.

GWEN IFILL: What are the latest reports that you are hearing about the amount of damage, the extent of the damage from the earthquake?

SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Yes, I continuously receive information from home that toll now reach number of something like 4,300-something. And also people were in a very desperate situation because of the rain.

And, of course, Java is very dense-populated island. And people from every corridor of Java flocked into Bantul area, which is hardest hit...

GWEN IFILL: Where the epicenter was.

SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: ... right, to help... and nearby the epicenter, and have given their assistance to those one in suffer. But, in any case, it is still needed, more and more assistance, because of the massive devastation that is happening.

GWEN IFILL: I think the number is 200,000 homeless. And we just heard Mr. Hudnut say that the construction quality of some of the housing may have contributed to that?

SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Yes, well, I myself I was born there. I grew up and I completed my university there. I know that particular area is not that backward in term of socioeconomic living conditions.

But, of course, a building that doesn't have a rod inside of the constructions are very fragile from shock, from shaking by the earthquake. And that's what I have seen, most of the houses in that particular area.

GWEN IFILL: It's also a cultural and tourist destination, when you say it's not that backwards.

SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: It is. It is. Oh, it is, yes.

GWEN IFILL: Describe it for us.

SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Well, Jakarta is considered to be the second tourist destination for Indonesia. The first is Bali.

And we talk about tourism in Indonesia. We have two giant temples. One is Hindu temples and the other one is a Buddhist temple. And those Hindu temple, some damage occurred.

And I don't know whether it is easy to restore, because the relief and all the structure is in such a way that probably make even very difficult for the archaeologist to, you know, reconstruct the temple.

GWEN IFILL: But even with this big tourist destination and these historic destinations there, you have bracing, they have been bracing there for some time for something to happen. They didn't think an earthquake; they thought a volcano.

SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Yes, well, of course, we all in Yogya prepared and anticipated the eruption of Mount Merapi. But what happened was that the earthquake came earlier. And all the preparations shifted to this incident, this tragic incidents, and we hope all that we can sustain the relief effort by all the people that are involved.

GWEN IFILL: Because you were preparing for the volcano, to some degree, does that mean you're in a better position to cope with...

SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Well, of course, compared with, you know, tsunami in 2004, for instance. There's no anticipation at all at that time and no ideas when we are preparing for our people to be evacuated to anticipate the explosions of Merapi Mount. Some preparations have been made, but, of course, it has to cope with the present situations, then I think will fall short of the expectation.

The need for aid relief

Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat
Indonesian Ambassador
We have established, you know, fundraising activities in the embassy that, of course, we expect more, not only from the United States, of course, from the international communities.

GWEN IFILL: So what is the greatest need now on the ground?

SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Well, of course, medical supplies. I am being told by a friend at home that medical supplies that come from different part of Java, voluntarily given by different hospitals, are still, again, insufficient at the moment for number, and also tents, tents for temporary shelter.

Of course, heavy equipment to dig up, you know, the casualties and the rubbles of houses, and drinking water, and all this sort of first aid.

GWEN IFILL: So heavy equipment, tents, water, medicine. The roads, I gather, were not that badly damaged. So are those supplies arriving?

SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Yes, supplies from different quarter is arrived there. And the areas surrounding Yogya actually is connected by asphalt roads from one to other villages. So, of course, roads, some of them are damaged, but still there are alternative roads that can be used.

GWEN IFILL: But apparently some of this has been exacerbate by rain?

SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: It is. It is.

GWEN IFILL: There has been a lot of rain?

SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Yes, can you imagine somebody wounded, injured, and then they have to stay outside in the open air, and then poured by rain? So really is terrible situation.

GWEN IFILL: So, assuming that these needs must be met somehow, what kind of help have you or offers of help have you been receiving from the international community?

SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Well we have to be grateful to the offers that have already been made. Neighboring countries, Asian countries, Japan, Korea, and European Union and, of course, United States government has already pledged, as you see, $2.5 million U.S. dollar. And countries from the Middle East and all of those countries have already pledged their readiness to contribute to the relief.

GWEN IFILL: How much do you think is going to be needed? Is there even an estimate yet?

SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Yes, well, different kind of estimation, of course, not yet, but (inaudible) but in between probably $2 until $3 trillion rupee. That's probably around $2.5 to $3 billion U.S. dollar. That's very preliminary estimation, so I don't know whether this is...

GWEN IFILL: So that's $2.5 million that's come from the United States so far. Drop in the bucket or are you expecting more?

SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Well, of course, we have established, you know, fundraising activities in the embassy that, of course, we expect more, not only from the United States, of course, from the international communities.

How individuals can contribute

Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat
Indonesian Ambassador
We have established a team in the embassy, so the embassy of Indonesia set up a Yogyakarta Relief Fund.

GWEN IFILL: How can individuals help? You know, there was quite an outpouring, as you will recall, during the tsunami.

SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Yes, yes.

GWEN IFILL: Quite an outpouring after the Bali attack. What can Americans or any individuals do?

SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Well, I'm pleased that you talk about this issue. We have established a team in the embassy, so the embassy of Indonesia set up a Yogyakarta Relief Fund.

GWEN IFILL: Which we have on the screen for people to see.

SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Yes, yes, well, our audience, our friends in the United States can have a look at the screen, so please contact us.

GWEN IFILL: That's www.embassyofindonesia.org or indonesiarelief.org.

SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: That's true.

GWEN IFILL: Are there other groups also which they can be contributing to, International Red Cross?

SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: Yes, well, International Red Cross already been there, Indonesian Red Cross, of course. And nongovernmental organizations, such as Oxfam, CARE, and there are many others that already been around and help us.

GWEN IFILL: Okay, Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for joining me. We wish you the best.

SUDJADNAN PARNOHADININGRAT: You're most welcome. Thank you very much for this opportunity. Thank you.