TRAVELING SULAWESI after the disaster of PALU
Updated: Aug 6, 2019
After the Tsunami in the end of September 2018, which got triggered by an earthquake of magnitude 7.5 on the west coast of Sulawesi, many people are wondering what exactly happened, if there is a chance to help and how this effects traveling in Sulawesi.
WHAT HAPPENED IN SULAWESI AND WHERE?
As international media reported all over the world a destructive Tsunami, triggered by an earthquake with magnitude of 7.5, hit the central west coast of Sulawesi. In particular the cities Palu, Dongala and surrounding areas. Many people lost their lives and homes, not only due to the earthquake and tsunami, also due to a major soil liquefaction.
Sulawesi is the world 11th largest island with an area of 180,681 km². To get a better idea of its size: the bee line between the capitol Makassar on the south tip and Manado in the North is the same then from Berlin to London. Palu is located on the west coast (250 km away from Togian Islands) of Sulawesi settled in a big bay. This city is located on "high-risk" tectonic ground where four major tectonic plates meet. Many scientific researches are focused on this area. It seems that a tsunami in Palu might have had a high probability to happen. Smaller Tsunamis hit the town in the past.
HOW CAN I HELP?
After the disaster we got many emails from former guests, friends and family which asked us how they could help the people from Palu. Many international organizations are in Palu to help its people - so there are many options to donate! If you can - please support. The people of palu desperately need help.
If you rather would like to help locally we would like to point out the efforts of a small foundation based in Tentena, named "Dolidi Ndano Towale". Many former travellers of Sulawesi will know the foundation from their visit in Tentena. It is focused on the help for kids since years offering them a home and education. Due to the happenings of Palu they are currently in special financial need, since they are working on an additional shelter for orphan kids from the affected ares around Palu. If you wish to support their efforts here is the data you are looking for:
NAME: Stichting Dolidi Ndano
REFERENCE: "Childcare disaster Palu"
BANK: ABN-AMRO Netherlands
Visit their website or check out the specific information on their plans to help the people from Palu (PDF) for all further information.
WHAT HAPPENED ON THE 28th OF SEPTEMBER IN POKI POKI?
Well to sum it: NOTHING. Some people could feel the earth slightly shaking, nothing special. A small earthquake which happens on daily basis around the world. Most guests did not even feel anything while taking a shower or watching the sunset. The first news arrived later this evening: an earthquake with magnitude of 6.2 hit Palu, nothing happened. So on this day we forget about the earthquake quickly and everyone enjoyed the evening together.
The Togian Islands were NOT affected at all from the earthquake - just as Ampana, Gorontalo, Tana Toraja the South or the North from Sulawesi. The disaster was very locally in and around the city of Palu on the west coast of Central Sulawesi.
The next day things seemed to be different, we saw a video of a wave hitting Palu, flooded streets and got the news that the airport is damaged and therefore closed. The news hit the world and reported of a Tsunami, a horrible number of people which lost their lives and pictures of destruction. Our team members were horrified as nearly everyone has family members in Palu. The phone connection was down and it was not possible to reach anyone in Palu. Some jumped on boats within the next days to get to Palu and look for their friends and family, but they didn´t get far as the roads around the destroyed city were blocked.
It stayed like that the next days. As the number of deaths raised, we listened to the radio in the kitchen, where they announced names of the people marked safe - sorted by provinces and villages. We were very lucky to hear the name "Bomba"- the nearest village to POKI POKI - from time to time. Within the next days the phone connection was working again and it seemed like everyone from the area Bomba, who was in Palu during the Tsunami, was safe, although some got injured. At this point we would like to send out our condolence to all friends and people who lost their loved once in Palu. Our thoughts are with you.
IS IT STILL POSSIBLE TO TRAVEL TO SULAWESI?
Sure it is still possible to travel to Sulawesi. The Tsunami, which hit the central west coast of Sulawesi, in particular the city of Palu, was very locally in and around the city. This, of course, caused major destruction of infrastructure in and around the city. However, since the city of Palu was not on the main travel route through Sulawesi (from South to North or the other way around) this does not have a big effect on your travel plans. All the beautiful places along the South-North-Route of Sulawesi were not effected by the disaster of Palu. The beautiful archipelago of Togian Islands, the area of lake Poso and the small town of Tentena, the North and the South are safe and did not get any affect of the earthquake nor the Tsunami.
Anyhow, Palu remains a major air hub in central Sulawesi with flights to Jakarta, Makassar, Manado or even the city of Ampana (the southern gateway to Togian Islands). The airport of Palu (PLW) is already back on track and you find hotels to sleep for a night if you have to. If you leave early morning from Makassar or Jakarta you can make it without an overnight stay to Ampana. If you have a bad feeling of crossing the city of Palu during your travels in Sulawesi: there are very good options to get to central Sulawesi without crossing Palu: you can either fly via the city of Luwuk or Poso (if you want to get to the Togian Islands or Tentena) or to Gorontalo if you wish to access the Togian Islands from the North.
IS IT STILL SAFE TO TRAVEL TO SULAWESI?
YES it is. Sulawesi is just as safe as before the happenings of Palu. The risk of a natural disaster is neither higher or lower. It is simply the same, also compared with other Indonesian islands or coastlines within SEA. Furthermore, the city of Palu got hit by Tsunamis in the past - and due to its very specific geographical setting within a large, slim and sustained bay, the risk of a Tsunami always was high in Palu. That - of course - is not applicable for most areas of Sulawesi.
Indonesia, with its many volcanos and tectonically movements has been and will be always in the risk of natural disasters such as earthquakes, eruptions of volcanos or tsunamis. Therefore we think it is important to know about the area where you travel to and be prepared with knowledge about how to act in this kind of events. May it be Sulawesi, other parts of Indonesia or anywhere in the world. There are many guidelines, which tell you all about "what to do" in situations such as earthquakes or Tsunamis. E.g. you can read all about Tsunamis and what to do here.
DOES THE TRAVELING GET EFFECTED BY THE HAPPENINGS OF PALU?
Not even two weeks after the disaster of Palu of course there are things that affect your trip to Sulawesi. Many travelers had to reschedule their flights since they planned to fly to Palu, a lack of gasoline raised the prices of transport and of course everybody is talking about it and there are lots and lots of fund-raising events around Sulawesi. Problems on the road and with public transport should be short-term and most things are slowly back on track. Anyhow, and this is clear, to rebuild the city of Palu will take time and of course people will talk and sadly mourn about their family and friends forever in remembrances of their loved once.
IS THERE A RISK OF A TSUNAMI AT TOGIAN ISLANDS?
After the earthquake and tsunami of Palu one may ask himself if the Togian Islands are in the risk of a Tsunami and if it is safe to travel to the Togian Islands.
We are no geologists, any other type of specialist and are not trying to be. Anyhow, we would like to take the chance to bring light in the dark and made some research on a potential risk of a tsunami at Togian Islands. As the International Tsunami Information Center (ITIC) informs: "Past Tsunamis can be the earliest warning for future ones". In a guideline the ITIC even recommends to talk to grandparents about their experience.
So thats what we did first: We asked the people of Togians if they have ever discovered a bigger wave after an earthquake. The eldest of the villages around Togian Islands report that there has never been a big wave hitting the land. People report, that even during the eruption of the vulcano Cono at Una Una in 1983 there was no wave caused.
To back up that information, we made some research and found two particular scientific papers which try to map the risk of a tsunami in Indonesia and in particular in Sulawesi. For those who are really sophisticated, you can find the papers here (risk in Indonesia), and here (risk in Sulawesi).
In the first paper, which tries to map the hight and probability of a Tsunami the paper shows, that the annual probability of a tsunami in the area of Togian Islands is less then 1/1000. On a 2.500 year perspective the maximum hight of a Tsunami in Togian Islands should be between 0 and 2 meters (Compared: the Tsunami in Palu with 6 meters or the one in Sumatra (Thailand, Malaysia, India and Maldives) in 2004 with over 20 meters).
LETS JUST SAY THERE COULD BE A TSUNAMI IN TOGIAN ISLANDS - WHAT WOULD WE DO IF WE WERE AT POKI POKI?
Even if the risk of a Tsunami seems to be very very low at Togians - we understand that it might be valuable to have a plan and an idea of Tsunamis. A Tsunami can either follow after an earthquake or a volcanic eruption. Both cases should be noticeable, being at POKI POKI and should give time to evacuate to the hills behind POKI POKI (about 5 minutes walking distance).
We have a clear sight of the volcano island Una Una with its vulcano Colo. The people from Togians report, that during the last eruption in 1983, there was no bigger wave at Togian Islands. Anyhow, even if it should erupt without prior notice - we would see it (and most probably hear it). The vulcano is located about 50 Kilometer north of POKI POKI. There are several reefs in between the Vulcano and POKI POKI (three reefs). We would have time to evacuated to the highest hill behind POKI POKI after an eruption.
A Tsunami caused by an earthquake, which can not get noticed, should not be possible. Due to the protected setting in the Gulf of Tomini the farest distance of see between POKI POKI and the mainland of Sulawesi is about 200 kilometers. An earthquake which can cause a tsunami should be noticeable on that distance. As mentioned before, we could even feel the earthquake of Palu slightly. With a stronger earthquake we could therefore evacuate to the highest hill behind POKI POKI.
We have only small bamboo and wooden huts. To be save during an earthquake you just have to make a few steps outside the room into the garden. In this case nothing from above can injure you. It is way more safer than staying in a big concrete building where you may not make your way to the outside during an earthquake. If it was a big earthquake you should make your way up to the hill afterwards.
Even if the risk is low - it is necessary and feels good to be prepared and know what to do in case of a strong earthquake or an eruption of the volcano Colo (Una Una).
To get some guidance on what to do in a potential Tsunami situation you can follow this link as well.