New earthquakes cause alarm

BY SUSAN KIM | Baltimore, MD | June 12, 2000


A second strong earthquake in Indonesia, as well as recent earthquakes in Turkey and Taiwan, left survivors with a second round of cleanup as well as recurring anxiety about future temblors.

Church World Service (CWS) teams were on the ground assessing damages from a strong earthquake that struck the Indonesian island of Sumatra on June

4 when a second tremor hit there on June 8. There were no reports of casualties from the second earthquake, though the first -- measuring 7.9 on the Richter

scale -- killed more than 100 people and injured more than 1,300.

Working with yayasans -- or locally-based non-governmental organizations -- CWS continues to assess damages, said Donna Derr, associate director for the

CWS International Emergency Response Program. CWS has a field office in Jakarta, Indonesia and staff from that office are based throughout the country.

The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) is also responding in Indonesia. CRWRC forwarded funds to a local consortium of churches.

"About 200 families will receive post-disaster assistance," said Jacob Kramer, CRWRC relief team member.

Most of those killed during the first earthquake were crushed by collapsing buildings while they slept. Thousands remain homeless, and many ran in a panic

from their tents when the second earthquake hit. Initial relief efforts were hampered by heavy rains and flooding. The worst-hit area was the city of

Bengkulu, and officials estimated preliminary damage at $6 million, with thousands of homes, buildings, and schools damaged or destroyed.

The island of Enggano was also hard-hit by the first earthquake. Though few casualties were reported there, relief workers said that food and shelter are still

urgently needed. The quake was one of the biggest to hit Indonesia in recent history. The new quake was deeper and centered slightly south of the first

tremor.

Survivors have been protesting what they see as a slow government response, with groups blocking the streets in protest. The government has dispatched

police teams to curb the unrest.

As a result of what experts are calling a shift in tectonic plates prompted by the large Indonesian earthquake, temblors also rocked other parts of the region.

Japan had three moderate earthquakes last week and China and Myanmar each had two. On Wednesday, a tremor measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale struck

central Japan while on Thursday, a quake measuring 6.3 hit the areas bordering Myanmar and China.

Another earthquake measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale struck central Turkey on June 6, killing three and injuring some 80 people. The epicenter was about

60 miles north of the capital of Ankara in the town of Cerkes in the Cankiri province.

The Turkish government set up crisis centers to help survivors. The low number of casualties, government officials said, was due to the fact that many of the

homes were adobe or wooden structures. By contrast, the two earthquakes that hit Turkey last year, in August and November, killed more than 18,000

people, most dwelling in modern housing units made of concrete.

Two more earthquakes struck Taiwan on Sunday and Monday. Early Sunday, a 6.7-magnitude quake set off rock slides, with huge boulders blocking traffic

on several highways. That temblor injured 36 people and caused two people to die of heart attacks. On Monday, another moderate earthquake shook

central Taiwan, with no immediate damage or injuries reported.

A 7.6-magnitude quake devastated central Taiwan in September, killing about 2,400 people and destroying thousands of homes. Since that earthquake, more

than 12,000 aftershocks and minor tremors have rattled the island. Most have been harmless.

After an earthquake, relief organizations often struggle to communicate with the disaster site, since telephone lines and power lines are usually down.

"Communication is a problem," said Elizabeth Griffin, spokesperson for AmeriCares. "After the Indonesian earthquake, we were able to communicate only

with people who were not immediately in the disaster zone."

At least some U.S. government officials think such communication problems could be partially alleviated by a proposed worldwide communications system

called the Global Disaster Information Network (GDIN), an Internet-based information system.

"The concept is a sound one," said James Devine, senior advisor for science applications at the U.S. Geological Survey. "When an earthquake occurs, the first

thing to do go down is the phone lines and power lines. Then the cell phone networks get saturated."

"An Internet-based system with some kind of coded access, one that was wireless, would facilitate more immediate communication after a disaster," said

Devine. "In California, for example, an area that is very well-prepared for earthquakes, communication would still very difficult after an earthquake. We are

close to having the technology to put such a system in place. It is important that we fund this."

Larry Roeder, policy advisor for the U.S. Department of State, added that a working group has been established to develop common standards for emergency telecommunications. "We plan to develop an information facilitator office, perhaps in the UN (United Nations) or somewhere else that would

serve as a wheel of information providers that could include governments, non-governmental organizations, universities, private companies, or anybody

else who has some interest in disaster-related information."

Roeder added that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) would be an important part of such an information network. "NGOs offer a tremendous

amount of information and are foot soldiers in the post-disaster field," he said.


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