Indonesian officials have come under scrutiny in the wake of the 840 fatalities wrought by the recent catastrophes suffered after both an earthquake and tsunami struck Sulawesi island Friday.
An earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale shook the island Friday evening roughly nine kilometers below the surface. Shortly afterward, BMKG, the national meteorological and geophysics center, issued a potential tsunami warning.
While a 30-minute warning cautioned residents of waves ranging 0.5 to three meters, waves measuring six meters high were crashing the shore, critics say, and the advisory was dropped prematurely while citizens were still struggling to gain their bearings.
The BMKG defended its decision, saying that removing the warning was sanctioned by 28 other countries bordering the Indian Ocean.
According to on-site BMKG spokesmen, the coast was completely bereft of sirens and the earthquake completely destroyed the area’s power and communication lines, so mobile alerts were never received.
Dozens of people were reportedly trapped in the rubble of several hotels and a mall in the city of Palu, on Sulawesi island, while others were gathered along the coastline for a beachfront festival.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the death toll could rise into the thousands.
Rahmat Triyono, BMKG's environmental disaster director, said the current system is “very limited.”
“Our [current] tools are very lacking. ... In fact, of the 170 earthquake sensors we have, we only have a maintenance budget for 70 sensors,” Triyono said.
"We have no observation data at Palu. So we had to use the data we had and make a call based on that,” the BMKG official said.
National disaster agency (BNPB) director, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, told CNN that none of the 22 underwater, seafloor buoys registered the incoming tsunami.
"Disaster funding continues to decline every year. The threat of a disaster increases, the incidence of disasters increases, and the BNPB budget goes down," said Nugroho
Triyono told Reuters: "If we had a tide gauge or proper data in Palu, of course, it would have been better. This is something we must evaluate for the future."