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Saturday, 29 October 2011

Bali Earthquake 13th October 2011: Afterthoughts

Since the 6.8 earthquake on 13th October here in Bali, lots of thoughts have crossed my mind related to what would happen should there be an even bigger one, just like the recent 7.2 earthquake that devastated
Turkey, killing hundreds of people.

One of the main things that has been on my mind since I arrived here (especially after working on the 3rd or
4th floor or various buildings) is that there are no fire exits in most of the buildings in Bali. I know, I'm not talking about a fire, but should there be a need to evacuate quickly and other exits are obstructed by fallen debris for example, then there will be no escape from these buildings leaving the people inside effectively trapped. I understand a fire exit might not always withstand an earthquake but it would certainly give some peace of mind and also be handy in case of, let's say, a fire!

Another point that stood out is the lack of procedure/preparedness on the part of the organisations and schools here in Bali. As the video below shows, even the police department just literally ran out the front of the building and stood around looking at each other in disbelief. At the school I was in, some of the teachers bolted before the students, not checking to see everyone was able to get out and it had no drill - everybody just poured out into the playground; there were no head counts or any form of checking to see if anybody was missing. Also, I should add that when the buildings started shaking, everybody (myself included) just ran for the exits at the same time - the surging numbers could have been just as much a source of casualties as any falling bits of buildings - there was no idea of 'exit slowly and calmly' or even 'get under a desk'. I get the impression that this scene was played out in schools and businesses across the island as a whole - quite frightening considering how prone to earthquakes this part of the world is.

Added to this is the state of the Carrefour building on Sunset Road in Kuta. It came off, from what I can gather, by far the worst structurally of all the buildings in Bali. Firstly, I must confess - I do not know if Carrefour commissioned the construction of the building or has merely rented it but, given its obvious structural weaknesses (see photos below), it raises the question as to how such a multi-national corporation, which is not short of cash, is operating in a sub-standard building. If they did indeed commission its construction, then they obviously took too many shortcuts to save costs regarding safety standards, with no regard for the safety of their customers. If they have rented it, then it seems that they did not do their homework on the quality of the building, therefore effectively putting their customers at risk. Some friends who were inside the building told me how it took around 3-4 minutes to get out when the earthquake struck due to the bottlenecks caused by throngs of people all heading for the same tiny exits - a shocking evacuation time and procedure for a 3-storey building with so many people inside. It also begs the question, how would it fare in case of a fire? It still remains a question worth asking yet will go unanswered for a while yet.

Bali's Carrefour on Sunset Road suffered some serious
damage. They are still working on it now, over 2 weeks later.
My final point is the traffic - everybody knows that the traffic is a major problem in Bali yet what people do not often consider is just how serious the implications of this can be for the emergency services. How an ambulance or fire engine is supposed to negotiate its way through miles of gridlock is beyond me. Should there be another, bigger earthquake here in Bali, then it seems that many people's casualties  will be greatly exacerbated not only by the intense surge in the number of casualties but also by the almost stationary traffic on Bali's roads.

If all of the above sounds extremely negative, it is based in the truth that is plain for all to see yet it
remains merely hypothetical until another earthquake does indeed happen. Until then, my only advice would be, given the complete lack of preparation in the face of evacuations, avoid staying in high-rise hotels, of which there are relatively few due to planning restrictions. Also, avoid Carrefour - take your trade to the local shops and businesses instead!  
Incredibly, no one was seriously injured.

Bali is still the same as it always was - a wonderful place with much to offer - yet it is still in a part of the world where earthquakes do and will happen. On the scale of things, for a tourist, braving Bali's roads is much more of a hazard statistically than any potential earthquake so don't let it stop you enjoying your holiday!


  1. Very interesting blog post! I've been studying here in Bali for the past few months via Asia Exchange ( and this was truly an exciting time for us exchange students. We knew that things like this could happen but still dealing with the earthquake was quite.. well, interesting. But for us Bali is still paradise:)


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