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2018: Indonesia's annus horribilis

Bryan Edwards

Across much of South East Asia, 2018 has been the year of awful weather. As the western media focusses on bad weather in the USA, countries in and bordering the China and South China Seas have been battered by typhoons that make the origin of the word (big wind) sound positively benign. But storms pass, winds blow themselves out, floods recede or evaporate. In Indonesia, however, the threat comes from the very earth itself as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes have become more frequent, more severe and more damaging.

In a café in Jakarta a young woman, Miss R, told of her concerns for family, friends and her business premises in Bali. A signifance earthquake in Lombok, the island that is favoured by those fed up with Bali's traffic and tourist attitudes (and is therefore falling prey to the same).

"We have a hotel in Bali that we've built and turned into a popular place. In the past two years, the volcano has caused us to lose a lot of business. We're new and we're small, we're not on the big tour companies' lists. We're on some hotel booking sites but most of our business comes from direct approaches and referrals. We've always known that Mount Agung would erupt sometime but it had been fifty years and we'd all become used to its rumblings. We didn't expect such a big eruption. Once the airport re-opened, people started to be afraid of coming to Bali in case they got trapped. Bookings in Lombok increased.

"Now Lombok has earthquakes. There are tremors in Bali but nothing serious. We are scared that there will be a big aftershock or that there will be another earthquake, this time in Bali."

She was right to be scared. We were speaking just after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake on 29th August resulted in 10 dead and 40 injured being reported immediately after the event. It was undersea, 16km from the island. Six days later Lombok was shaken again - this time a 7.0 magnitude 'quake killed more than 80 .. and that figure from just hours after the event was set to rise. Data showed that the earthquake had also been undersea - and at a shallow depth, perfect conditions for a tsunami.

A phone call to the same girl found her in Bali, checking damage at the hotel. It had been well built, a few things had shaken off tables but there was no structural damage. "The people next door weren't so lucky," she said. "They've got big cracks in their walls. I've heard that a temple down the road in Ubud has been badly damaged and that some hotels in Denpasar are being evacuated. We're waiting for news." Bali is 130km from Lombok. There had been dozens of aftershocks in the intervening days, mostly affecting only Lombok. A tsunami warning was issued after the second 'quake but rescinded a short while later.

Then it went quiet. Things returned to normal. Holidaymakers enjoyed island time, Bali became Bali again, the unique place that literally doesn't fit any standard description of a holiday island.

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