As if Sumatra hasn’t been sufficiently ravaged by natural disasters in recent years, the angry gods of the Pacific pounded their fists once more, sending a massive 8.4 earthquake aground Wednesday night. With aftershocks of nearly the same magnitudes as the original earth-shattering quake, Indonesia has been fatally pulsating over the past several days.
Following the initial convulsion, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Thursday morning at about 6:45 a.m. followed by half a dozen tremors measuring 5.0 and above. Then, four hours later, a 7.1-magnitude quake rocked the region. The quakes shook buildings hundreds of miles away, killed at least nine people and injured many more, and according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), generated a small tsunami about 60 cm high along the Sumatran coast. Though normally a 2-foot swell is nothing to cause alarm, just the simple idea of another tsunami is enough to rightly get pulses racing.
The devastation of the December 2004 tsunami is all too fresh in the minds of the Sumatran people, as well as the rest of the world. The 2004 tsunami, caused by a 9.1 earthquake killed more than 200,000 people in 7 countries. The NOAA has announced that they do not predict there to be any significant tsunami activity due to the recent earthquake, but nonetheless, many are taking precautionary measures. As tsunami warnings were periodically issued and retracted over the past few days, many retreated inland, fearful of a repeat of 2004.
Indonesia is located directly on the "Pacific Ring of Fire," the area lining the Pacific Ocean where frequent volcanic activity and earthquakes occur due to the shifting crustal plates. Ninety percent of the world’s earthquakes and 81% of the world’s largest earthquakes occur along the Ring of Fire. Sumatra lies above a major subduction zone, the Great Sumatran Fault, which runs the entire length of the island. In layman’s terms, the islands are a ticking time bomb. Since the catastrophic tsunami of December 2004, Indonesia has fallen victim to 15 earthquakes with magnitudes of 6.3 or higher, according to the USGS. The quakes have killed almost 8,000 people, with the bulk of the deaths coming last summer.
This week’s earthquakes have left thousands- many of whom have just finished rebuilding their homes from past natural disasters- once again homeless. Numerous others whose homes were spared by the quake have opted to sleep outside, daunted by the idea of future tremors. Relief teams have already begun arriving in Sumatra and several international aid agencies have pledged thousands in support of rescue efforts.
Though the people of Sumatra may be temporarily spared from the physical rumbling of the Earth, they will likely continue to experience the reverberation of emotional and societal tremors for quite some time. Whether it be volcanic erruption, earthquake, or tsunami, the geology of Indonesia adds one more unnerving dimension to the already hazardous, yet paradiscal, island chain.