Saturday, January 08, 2005

History repeats

A three hour road trip from Indonesia's crowded capital, Jakarta, brings you to a wonderful stretch of beach on the western tip of Java island. From Anyer to Carita there are scores of hotels, resorts and bungalows providing fresh sea-air and relaxation beneath luxurious palm trees. On a clear day you can see as far as Anak Krakatau island in the Sunda Straits.

When I first visited I was informed that virtually none of the local people were asli (original). In 1883, the eruption of the original Krakatau volcano caused huge tsunamis which lashed the shores wiping out dozens of towns and villages. The port of Anyer, it is recorded, "simply ceased to exist as great waves washed over it, carrying away the flimsy wooden buildings that made up the town". The waves were so powerful that coral blocks weighing as much as 600 tons were thrown ashore.

According to Indonesia's Meteorological and Geophysical Agency (BMG):
The 40 m high tsunamis generated ravaged the shores of the Sunda Straits and caused 36,000 deaths in 295 coastal fishing villages, whilst casualties were recorded as far away as 800 km. Much of Krakatau was very low altitude and therefore the huge tsunamis swept headlong further inland than in higher areas. Many areas are recorded to have flooded as much as 10 km inland, and a Man-of-war ship was carried a similar distance and stranded 10 m above sea level.
The true casualty figure will never be known but the estimated 36,000 of the archipelago's then 40 million population is, probably, equivalent to 200,000 today. Around Anyer the devastated, now empty coastline was gradually resettled by people from other districts.

That catastrophe was all too hard to imagine - until 26 December 2004. On Friday, Indonesia raised its confirmed death toll from the northern Sumatran earthquakes and tsunamis to 104,055. The Ministry of Social Affairs said over 10,000 people are still missing.

With over 153,000 tsunamis victims across 13 Indian Ocean nations reported killed, more than half a million people injured and up five million in immediate need of emergency assistance, renowned author and Sri Lankan resident, Sir Arthur C Clarke, adds a further historical connection:

"There is much to be done in both short and long terms for Sri Lanka to raise its head from this blow from the seas. Among other things, the country needs to improve its technical and communications facilities so that effective early warnings can help minimise losses in future disasters.

"Curiously enough, in my first book on Sri Lanka, I had written about another tidal wave reaching the Galle harbour (see Chapter 8 in The Reefs of Taprobane, 1957). That happened in August 1883, following the eruption of Krakatau in roughly the same part of the Indian Ocean." (via Michelle Malkin).