Series of Writing on Disaster Risk Reduction Learning Process in Sangihe, North Celebes, Indonesia (Part 1) :
When a 9.0 earthquake at the Richter scale with the epicenter in Honshu struck Japan March 11, 2011, it triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 40.5 meters, Indonesia had to stay alert too. Moreover when the Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics or BMKG announced that the tsunami waves up to 1 or 2 meters could reach eastern part of Indonesia such as North Moluccas, North Celebes, Papua and small islands nearby at 6.30 or 8.30 PM. BMKG had instructed people living at those coastal area to stay away from the beach.
Even though the height of the real waves that reached Indonesia was nothing to worry about, nonetheless, the announcement had created mass panic. People run without clear direction, trying to reach higher place to save their lives. In such situation, deaths from human stampedes could occur, primarily from compressive asphyxiation.
In Manado, the capital of the province for example, there was no evacuation routes and no information about assembly points. Moreover, there were no government officials in the field trying to manage the crowd during their ‘selves-evacuation’.
However, such chaotic situation was not found in Bahu, Tabukan Utara sub-district, Sangihe Island District, around 100 miles from Manado’s harbor. BMKG announced that Tabukan Utara would be the first hit by the tsunami waves from Japan.
“Soon after we heard announcement from BMKG at the TV, my friends and I from disaster preparedness team (TSBD) initiated coordination with the village chief,” explained Amir Bakri, TSBD leader of Bahu.
Then he split his team into two groups: one ought to patrol to each Lindongan, other group stationed at the beach to observe the raise of the sea level. “We used megaphone to tell the people to stay alert. No siren was used because we didn’t want them to panic. We told them to get ready for the worst, and this is for tsunami drill,” Amir further explained.
Majority of TSBD member was youth, conducted patrol surrounding the area of 4 square kilometers and came to five Lindongan: Buelong, Memeha, Bahu, Tonggengbio, and Gihang. They also told their neighborhood villagers to stay alert for the tsunami waves; therefore they ought to be away from the beach.
Later, BMKG lifted the warning, but Amir and his team stayed alert until past midnight. They took the lesson from Mentawai; tsunami struck the area an hour after BMKG had lifted the warning. Unfortunately for the people of Mentawai, without proper knowledge about tsunami and how to prepare themselves, casualties and economic lost were hard to minimize.
People were placed on Alert for Tsunami
TSBD of Raku also stayed on alert for the tsunami, which majority of the member was housewife, performed coordination with community leaders. “I went to the mosque and told our villagers about tsunami warning that was announced by BMKG using loudspeaker. Some of our members conducted patrol around the village to ensure that every one was ready for the worst possibility,” explained Fatmin Kaehe, TSBD member of Raku.
Both villagers of Baku and Rahu were getting ready while kept their eyes on the TV or any instructions for evacuation from TSBD. They put some clothes, food stock and important documents inside one bag, which would be helpful if they ought to flee to evacuation center. They were fully aware that this was not a drill, but getting ready for an expected disaster.
Even though BMKG mentioned that the waves would height up to 1 or 2 meters and some houses were located far from the coastline, people still feared for the tsunami. Ali, 3rd graders at Bahu Elementary School mentioned that he was frightened. He knew how devastated tsunami was because he learned about it from school. But he saw his parents were calm, so it helped him to calm down as well.
“We were frightened, we never experienced tsunami before. But we were ready. Mama had prepared some clothes, books, important documents and food stock in one bag,” Ali further explained.
“This was the first time we did disaster preparedness work for real; we had done some drills in the past. But they were not for tsunami; they were for Gunung Awu’s eruption instead,” added Amir.
The villagers of Bahu did volcanic eruption drill on October 2009 because Gunung Awu was the main threat for them understanding it located only 5 kilometers away. While for the villagers of Raku, the last flooding drill was on September 2009. The people of Raku have been living with overflow of Laine’ river most of the time. When tsunami alert was announced, it counted as second time for them. However, he was grateful that the wave only heighted up to 10 centimeters.
“It turned out that we were more prepared than what we had thought. We did follow the procedure. We were solid when consolidating our team and the villagers,” added Rusdi Tompoh, the leader of the elderly.
Limited Communication Equipment
Unfortunately, communication equipment used to disseminate information during the event was limited. The people of Bahu for example, had to rely on radio kept at village chief’ house for that purpose.
Such communication equipment could reach as far as the capital of sub-district only. It was used to maintain coordination and to share information with related officials at the sub-district level regarding early warning. In addition to this, siren and flag were also used to denote the situation of emergency. Siren was used for the most dangerous situation, while when flag was raised at the house of the village chief, it would be the sign for the danger posed by Gunung Awu. The flag had three different colors: red meant high alert, yellow for watch out! and green was placed when the situation was back to normal.
Cellular phone could not be used in Bahu, because such service did not available. They obtained information about disaster at the national scale from TV channel.
When BMKG put tsunami alert last Friday, the villagers did not use siren, flag or bedug (such as practiced in Raku) to avoid mass panic. They used megaphone and conducted patrol from one Lindongan to others.
“We were glad because now we could handle such situation a lot better. We had disaster preparedness team; we knew how to coordinate, and the people knew what to do and how to get prepared,” explained Lukman Samad, village chief of Raku.