Volcano Launches Deadly Tsunami

It came without warning Saturday night. Within seconds, hundreds of lives were gone and hundreds more went missing as a deadly tsunami struck the western coasts of both Java and Sumatra.

Many of the affected areas are popular weekend getaways for residents of Jakarta, but foreigners were also visiting the area over the long holiday weekend. At least 373 people were killed almost 14 years to the day after the Boxer Day Tsunami in 2004, (which killed more than 230,000 people throughout an even broader region just north of Krakatau). At least 558 houses were destroyed, while nine hotels, 60 restaurants and 350 boats were heavily damaged. No foreigners had been reported killed or injured.

The deadly tsunami in Indonesia was triggered by a chunk of the Krakatau volcano slipping into the ocean. It appears that recent eruptions on Krakatau (or Anak Krakatau—child of Krakatau) caused a buildup of undersea lava that broke loose and caused a massive undersea landslide, which caused a massive upheaval of water. Images captured by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellite showed a large portion of the southern flank of the volcano had slid off into the ocean, scientists said.

anak krakatau Indonesia volcano

Indonesia’s early warning system monitors earthquakes, but not undersea landslides and volcanic eruptions, which can generate deadly waves. There hasn’t been an operational tsunami warning system since 2012. The waves destroyed hundreds of buildings, sweeping away cars and uprooting trees in several popular tourist destinations on both sides of the Sunda Strait.

Authorities have warned local residents to stay tuned and to stay away from the coastal areas in the region because the volcano is still active and it could trigger another tsunami.

Indonesia is prone to tsunamis because it is on the Ring of Fire – the line of frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that circles the Pacific Rim. In September, more than 2,000 people died when a powerful earthquake struck just off the central Indonesian island of Sulawesi, setting off a tsunami that engulfed the coastal city of Palu. A large earthquake hit Lombok last August. It killed more than 500 people, but it did not generate tsunamis, so Indonesians are accustomed to frequent geologic activity.

Krakatau reemerged in 1927 from the caldera that was formed during the volcano’s massive eruption in 1883, which killed more than 40,000 people. It has been active and deadly for the past 30 years. A constant flow of lava has helped the volcano rise from the sea again.

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