Tsunami Fears Leave Padang Scrambling for Higher Ground

By webadmin on 04:47 pm Jul 18, 2011
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Ismira Lutfia

In the coastal city of Padang, West Sumatra, demand for taller buildings is being fueled by an unlikely source.

The local government has recently wrapped construction on 14 new buildings — all three stories or taller — in this provincial capital of more than 800,000 residents. In total, 100 such buildings will be constructed in the low-lying city, where the constant threat of tsunamis has forced disaster preparedness officials to literally build higher ground.

Padang lies some three meters above sea level in an earthquake-prone part of the country. In total, some 560,000 city residents live in an area likely to be flooded with seawater by an encroaching tsunami. But the city’s narrow, inadequate road system cannot handle a wide-spread evacuation of tsunami-prone areas, said Dedi Henidal, head of the Padang Natural Disaster Mitigation Board (BPBD) on Monday.

Instead, the city plans to tell residents to evacuate their homes for taller, tsunami-resistant structures, Dedi said on the sidelines of a regional disaster mitigation conference.

“We aim to have a multiple-story building for every kilometer,” he said. “Each building can accommodate between 2,000 to 6,000 people.”

Advances in disaster preparedness often come from cities like Padang, where local administrators face the realities of natural disasters on a daily basis, said Suhardjono, head of the tsunami and earthquake division at the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG). In 2009, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Padang, killing more than a thousand and leveling hundreds of thousands of homes.

“[Local disaster preparedness offices] only have two to three minutes to make a decision on how to evacuate their citizens and guide them properly in the process,” Suhardjono said, adding that nationwide disaster plans should be further developed at the local and regional levels.