Powerful quake strikes Indonesia – felt in Jakarta and Singapore

Although we’re fine here in Jakarta, this brings back memories from the Asian Tsunami. I live only two miles from the ocean, and barely above sea level.

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) — A strong earthquake measuring 7.9 in magnitude has struck near southern Indonesia, sending employees fleeing into the street and triggering a small tsunami.

Companies have ordered immediate emergency evacuations.

Brian Shiro of the National Oceanic and Atmopheric Administration’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the tsunami measured about two feet high, much smaller than the devastating one that struck in 2004, killing more than 200,000.

It was recoreded in Padang, on Sumatra, several hundred miles northeast of the epicenter, Shiro said.

A tsunami watch has been issued for all Indian Ocean areas including Australia, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen and Kenya.

The earthquake struck at 1810 local time (1110 GMT) in Bengkulu province.

Several skyscrapers in Jakarta were rocked by the quake, which came at the end of the work day, said Andy Saputra, CNN producer in Jakarta.

“It’s pretty strong and people are being evacuated from the tall buildings,” he said.

Jakarta is 605 km (375 miles) southeast of the epicenter. The epicenter is believed to be Bengkulu Province in southern Sumatra.

Although some employees were too afraid to leave their offices, companies ordered immediate emergency evacuations, Saputra said.

Workers exited structures via fire stairs and went into the street, away from buildings and other potential dangers, he added.

The Financial Times’ John Aglionby, speaking from Jakarta, told CNN: “I was up on the 16th floor of a skyscraper… I heard the blinds flapping and the windows first and the chairs were shaking and everything, and realised that we had to get out.”

A resident of Bengkulu province told CNN: “Everyone is running out their houses in every direction.”

High-rise buildings also were evacuated in Singapore, CNN Producer Martin Bohley said.

He said he felt shaking for almost a minute.

“At first I wasn’t quite sure, then I reconfirmed with staff at the hotel, then I turned on local media here, and local media had reported that several high-rise locations had felt it so strong that they had evacuated.”

Ken Navidad at the U.S. Geological Survey said in Denver said the tsunami centers in the Pacific and Alaska initially said two quakes, but he did not know why. He said his agency has measured only one.

Wednesday’s earthquake is 10 times smaller than the one that caused the giant tsunami off the northern tip of Indonesia in 2004, John Applegate of the USGS in Washington said.

But he added: “The earthquake itself is a warning that there could be a tsunami, and people have to get off the beaches.”

Applegate said it was a shallow earthquake, about 19 miles deep, which is more of a threat to the local population.

“(With a) deep earthquake, the waves have to travel through a lot of the earth before they reach population; shallow earthquake means the local population is right there,” he explained.

“It also means that its more likely to rupture the surface, and with this being a subsea earthquake, that means there is the tsunami potential.”

Tsunami warning centers in Hawaii and Alaska said no tsunamis were expected in their areas.

Indonesia, which sits on the Pacific Basin’s “Ring of Fire” – an arc of volcanos and fault lines, is prone to seismic upheaval.

In December 2004, a massive earthquake off Sumatra island triggered a tsunami that killed more than 230,000 people, including 160,000 people in Indonesia’s province of Aceh.

Further perspectives on the flooding (via Ian's blog)

My friend, Ian, has shared his flooding experience on his blog. He had a bit of a different situation than I did, as he waited around another day before leaving Kelapa Gading – in the relative safety of a military truck versus the manure hauler we cruised in.

Several of our friends houses and cars were damaged and we were inconvenienced somewhat but 1000’s of people lost everything – and as is typical in the developing world – it is the poor who are most effected. Those with money have second stories on their houses and the means to evacuate. If you want to help, go and make a zillion dollars, pay off all the government officials to go away, then hire a team of urban developers and engineers the likes of who appear on the Discovery Channel type shows like MegaMonsterMachines. Pay them a ton of money if and only if they successfully rebuild the infrastructure of Jakarta.

How to help Jakarta's flood victims?

Some people have written me, asking how they could help some of the victims of the flood. It may be hard to believe, as not that many people lost their lives; but so many families have lost everything in the flood. Unfortunately, those people who lost everything are also the ones that would never have had insurance or some kind of safekeeping for their belongings. At minimum, I was able to put our important things on the second story of my home – most of those who have little to begin with didn’t have that option.

At my place of work, we have a support staff of Indonesians; many of them lost everything in the flood. One of my assistants had a baby last week – his home was under 2 meters of water only days before the birth.

I have not heard of any donation sites, nor do I truly trust the major organizations; it’s difficult to know where the money goes at times. In my case, I prefer to give directly, not through a middle-man, but I realize I have the benefit of living here.

If anyone has any ideas on how those people who reside in other countries could help, please let me know. For now, the only thing I can think of is to follow what one of my co-workers is doing. She said many of her friends and family expressed interest in helping, so she had them deposit whatever amount they wished to donate into her bank account. She simply kept track of it and donated food, supplies, and money in their name. I’m willing to do the same, but realize how it may cause hesitation on the part of those who don’t truly know me in ‘real’ life. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while (some of you since 2002), then hopefully you feel you can trust me as a person to do the right thing if you do choose to donate. However, I completely understand those who are uncomfortable donating in that way.

If you have any interest in pursuing this, I’d be happy to discuss it further over email. I’ll be donating food, clothing, and money this coming week regardless. As I said, if you have any other ways of donating, more power to you. I just prefer to know exactly where my donations are going.

Jakarta Floods 2007

Wow. What an experience that turned out to be. My last posting was written during the first day of rain when Kelapa Gading (my area in the north side of Jakarta) was flooded but still functioning. Things went quickly downhill from there.

That night, torrential rains began falling and continued throughout the night. My wake up call came in the form of my air conditioner shutting off due to the power being cut. My initial reaction to that is to hit the breaker and go back to bed. Just for kicks, I glanced out the window; my neighborhood had turned into Venice overnight. Luckily, my street sits a couple feet higher than 90% of the other 1000 homes in my neighborhood. Water never entered my home.

Jakarta Floods 2007

Jakarta Floods 2007

Jakarta Floods 2007

A couple hours later, my friend Ian waded on over from his place a kilometer away. See, Ian and I aren’t the type to really think things through; we thought it’d be a good idea to go out and take some pics and video of the scene. We weren’t considering the fact that some people had died from electrocution, that we were walking around dead rats, sewage, snakes, and random potholes that would swallow us whole. But what we saw was worth every moment of discomfort.

Jakarta Floods 2007

Jakarta Floods 2007

I haven’t seen such an odd scenario since September 11. Remember on that sunny morning when everyone was just walking around in a daze, as if our society was on autopilot? It was like that all over again but without the tragedy and sadness to cope with. The day before, there was a mad dash to get supplies, groceries, and fresh water. This day, those stores were all closed; employees couldn’t get to work, suppliers couldn’t get fresh food, and the electricity was off regardless.

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We came to a main intersection near the entrance to my complex, and it felt like a scene out of a sci-fi movie. Helicopters soaring overhead, Marines and military driving around, heavy-duty rafts being deployed, and cars trying to swim their way out of Kelapa Gading. One large such truck was plowing its way through the intersection, only to come to a smashing dead stop when it crashed into an unseen curb covered with water.

Jakarta Floods 2007

Jakarta Floods 2007

Jakarta Floods 2007

Turning the corner, we came to the boulevard which connects our area to the shopping centers. It’s a very wide, palm lined street with a large canal separating the two lanes. We saw a guy swim from one road to the other side, traversing the vile canal with no problem. It was later said that some of the construction workers were sucking the soupy water into their mouths and then spitting it out at each other. My stomach turns visualizing that.

We knew that things would be better off if we got out of our home, especially if the rains persisted, so I took a raft over to my home to float some of my more “valuable” possessions 😉 to my workplace, where 15 or so of my colleagues were camping out. However, as night fell on the city, the gravity of the situation settled on us like a damp fog: limited fresh water, limited drinking water, only a couple days worth of food, electricity powered by a generator that had to be supplied with fuel (who would operate it and bring fuel?), and total isolation in most regards. That was the point where the situation took a sharp turn from being “interesting” to being a bit disturbing.

Jakarta Floods 2007

Jakarta Floods 2007

After quite a hassle, a quarter of us split up from the group and decided enough was enough. Some of the security guards managed to flag down a massive truck – the only ones which were able to get through the waist high water at this point. For $200 they agreed to take us to a hotel downtown.

So here we were, at 10pm a few bule in the back of a massive dump-truck like vehicle, pushing our way through chest-high water. We were told to pick up the headmaster’s family before going downtown, so the search for a safe passageway began. Most of the roads were flooded so badly that even the monster we were in couldn’t get through, and after three failed attempts, we had to make the decision to leave them – without a raft, there was no way to get to them. Luckily their apartment was still doing alright despite being stranded.

Speeding along the toll roads in the back of this thing was quite a trip. Jakarta’s main toll roads were built raised above the city-level, so most times you’re actually quite high up. Generally this is no big deal, but one false move, and we would have careened over the 3 foot concrete shoulder; it was a 60 foot drop from the road were were on to the streets below.

Pulling up to the hotel in a truck like this isn’t something I’d recommend to anyone. We looked like genuine refugees (and probably smelled like it too). The looks we received were a mix of pity and wonderment.

Unfortunately, as relieved as we were to be out of Kelapa Gading, that hotel’s water line broke, allowing brownish mystery water to flow back into the showers and toilets, so we switched to the Grand Hyatt – not a bad place to spend a day or two.

Now I know the story would be much more interesting if I could say that our hardships continued, but the truth is that last Tuesday, we’d had enough. After receiving news that we weren’t expected to be back at work for almost another week, a large group of us flew to Bali. Unlike other trips to the island, I didn’t have my camera, and didn’t bother renting a car to tour around. We simply lounged around the beach and the pool at the Kumala Pantai in Seminyak. Considering we had to cancel our Christmas plans to travel, this was a much needed break from Jakarta.

Sunday night, we returned to Jakarta not knowing what to expect. Luckily my house and car were not flooded, although our running water is still not working properly and our refrigerator decided to die on us. Kelapa Gading is back in action, although the streets are a bit dirty and piles of rubbish dot the side of the roads, things are almost back to normal. Many of my colleagues’ homes, unfortunately, were flooded and damaged. Some had their cars flooded as well. The clean-up and replacement costs could be significant. In contrast, many of the Indonesian staff who work with us live in homes which were flooded to nearly 2 meters – they’ve surely lost most of their belongings. I hope we can pull together as a staff to help them in this time of need.

So why did Kelapa Gading get flooded so badly? According to the Jakarta Post, much of my area is actually below sea level. I suppose that makes sense, seeing as the Dutch were responsible for the civil engineering throughout this city. It’s scary to think that this same thing happened (to a somewhat lesser degree) in 2002, and yet they promised that it wouldn’t happen again. I’m only 3 km from the ocean, so no matter what they plan, I doubt water will be in a hurry to clear out.

Jakarta Floods 2007

There’s been a boom of construction in my part of the city since I first arrived; huge malls, shopping centers, apartment complexes, a sports arena, and countless restaurants. It’s been a mad dash to pour concrete over any area of green. So when the rains arrive – where’s the water supposed to go?

Jakarta Floods 2007

Surely the flooding is due to a number of factors ranging from the deforestation of the volcanic highlands which surround Jakarta, the filth and garbage blocking the main rivers and canals, the lack of a large-scale canal to draw the water away, and of course the concrete conundrum. Is there much else that could have been done? I’d like to think so.

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It’s said that these huge floods occur every five years on average – meaning they knew this was coming, and yet, the city was just as unprepared as ever. Will property value plummet in my area of Kelapa Gading? Will the huge mansions sell off like hot-cakes? Will the people with Jaguars, Mercedes, and Beamers move to higher ground? Will the massive malls become ghost towns? Will the perpetual line at J-Co donuts finally dry up? Will the never-ending construction come to a grinding halt?

All very unlikely. And why? Well, hell, they’ve got another five years to worry about it!

More photos may be seen here.


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Floods in Jakarta

When I heard the downpour around 4am this morning, I had no idea how bad it really would be. The city is drowning as we speak, under the torrential rains of these past two days. Some areas of Jakarta are under more than 6ft of water. People are using rafts to get around, and some have become stranded.

One of the worst things is that the vile canals have mixed in with the floodwaters, creating a potentially toxic, soupy mess that’s entering people’s homes.

I attempted to go to work this morning in my Honda, before receiving the call that work was canceled. On the way to pick up my colleague in my own complex, I found myself in water up to the bottom of my car doors, and had to reverse and turn around. Luckily, the complex we live in is a bit higher than other parts of Kelapa Gading, but eerily only a few feet above sea level. If I venture out on foot, I’ll be in floodwaters waist high in only a kilometer from my home – basically we’re stuck, but we’re fortunate to have clean water, electricity, and all other services.

I feel terrible for those people downtown or in other outlying areas that are experiencing flooding in their homes. Novita’s brother’s home has water 2 meters high within his home right now. But as I said – it’s not strictly rainwater; it’s a mix of sewage, garbage, chemicals, and other indescribable filth.

I heard that one of our other colleagues walked through some of the water up to his knees and in only a short time his legs were burning from whatever was in the water.

Indonesia simply cannot get a break from tragedy these past few years.

Foolishly enough, I’m getting ready to go out and attempt to take some pics and video of the flooding. I know. I’m truly not bright at times. More to come.


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