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Don’t Panic: Reports about imminent mega earthquake and tsunami in Java misinterpreted, experts say

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Reports about a possible mega earthquake and tsunami in Java has had people shooketh in Indonesia, but experts have played down the concerns and said they were the result of a misreading of a scientific study.

The past few days saw the widespread reporting of the potential of a megathrust earthquake and a resulting giant tsunami measuring some 20 meters in height along the southern coast of Java island, both in the mainstream media and social media. 

Seemingly adding credence to the story was the fact that it was based on a study by researchers at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB).

However, the Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has played down the concerns by pointing out that the study was published last year and that it actually contains recommendations for disaster mitigation in a worst-case scenario, not a forecast for an imminent grand collision between tectonic plates.

“We hope that the public raise their scientific literacy, and we hope that they won’t be too quick to panic with every information about potential disaster,” BMKG Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster Mitigation Department Head Daryono said in a press release yesterday.

The problem, Daryono theorized, is a general tendency to consume bite-sized pieces of information rather than reading into matters in depth.

“The people should not be easily baited by bombastic media headlines announcing an imminent disaster,” he said.

ITB researchers have also confirmed that the study does not explicitly conclude that Java will be rocked by a massive earthquake and tsunami.

However, economically, some damage has been done as hotel owners along the southern coast of Indonesia’s most populous island complained about stay cancellations after the story was widely reported.

That Indonesia can be paranoid about tsunamis is perfectly understandable. On Dec. 26, 2004, a devastating 9.1-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra and triggered a tsunami that killed 220,000 across the Indian Ocean region, including around 170,000 in Indonesia.

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