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Why Did the 5.6 Magnitude Earthquake That Struck Indonesia Cause So Many Deaths?

Java, the largest island in Indonesia, was struck by an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.6, which left more than 260 people dead and hundreds more injured as buildings collapsed and residents ran for their lives in terror.

On Tuesday morning, rescue workers were still pulling bodies from the rubble in Cianjur, the city that was hit the hardest by the earthquake. Cianjur is located in the province of West Java, which has the highest population density in the country, and is about 217 kilometers (about 135 miles) south of the capital city of Jakarta. There are still several people that have not been found.

A villager looks at damaged houses in Cianjur on November 22, 2022.
A villager looks at damaged houses in Cianjur on November 22, 2022.

The experts say that the proximity to fault lines, the shallowness of the quake, and inadequate infrastructure that cannot withstand earthquakes all contributed to the damage that was done, despite the fact that the magnitude would normally be expected to only cause light damage to buildings and other structures.

A closer look at the earthquake, along with some of the reasons why it resulted in such widespread destruction, is as follows:

The earthquake that occurred on Monday, was it a "strong" tremor?

The United States Geological Survey reported that the earthquake that occurred late on Monday afternoon had a magnitude of 5.6 and that it occurred at a depth of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles).

Villagers salvage items from damaged houses following a 5.6-magnitude earthquake in Cianjur on November 22, 2022.
Villagers salvage items from damaged houses following a 5.6-magnitude earthquake in Cianjur on November 22, 2022.

In most cases, earthquakes of this magnitude do not result in widespread damage to infrastructure that has been adequately constructed. However, the agency emphasizes that "there is not one magnitude above which damage will occur." [Citation needed] It is dependent on a number of other factors, including the distance from the epicenter of the earthquake, the type of soil you are standing on, the building construction, and a number of other aspects.

In Indonesia, dozens of buildings, including Islamic boarding schools, a hospital, and other public facilities, were destroyed or severely damaged. Roads and bridges were also destroyed, and some areas of the region were left without power.

Municipality officers in Cianjur evacuate an injured colleague following the earthquake.
Municipality officers in Cianjur evacuate an injured colleague following the earthquake.

The question is, then, why the earthquake caused such extensive damage.

The proximity of the buildings to fault lines, the intensity of the earthquake, and the fact that the buildings were not constructed using earthquake-resistant methods were all factors that contributed to the devastation, according to experts.

According to Gayatri Marliyani, an assistant geology professor at Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, "Even though the earthquake was medium-sized, it (was) close to the surface... and located inland, close to where people live." This statement was made by Gayatri Marliyani. "The energy was still sufficient to cause significant shaking, which ultimately led to damage."

According to Marliyani, the most severely damaged region is in close proximity to a number of previously identified faults.

A fault is a place on the surface of the earth where there is a long break in the rock that forms the surface. When an earthquake takes place on one of these faults, the rock on one side of the fault shifts in comparison to the rock on the other side of the fault.

Workers inspect a school damaged in the earthquake in Cianjur, West Java.
Workers inspect a school damaged in the earthquake in Cianjur, West Java.

According to Marliyani, "the region probably has the most inland faults compared to the other parts of Java." [Citation needed]

She went on to say that although there are some well-known faults in the region, there are also a great number of other active faults that have not been studied very thoroughly.

According to Danny Hilman Natawidjaja, an expert in earthquake geology at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences Geotechnology Research Center, many buildings in the region are not built with quake-proof designs, which further contributed to the damage. This was one of the factors that contributed to the devastation.

He stated that because of this, a quake of this magnitude and depth would be even more destructive.

A collapsed Cianjur school building following the earthquake.
A collapsed Cianjur school building following the earthquake.

Do earthquakes of this magnitude frequently occur in Indonesia?

Because of its location on the "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin, the nation of more than 270 million people is frequently struck by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis. This is due to the fact that the Ring of Fire is located in the Pacific Basin. The region, which is roughly 40,000 kilometers (25,000 miles) in size, is the epicenter for the vast majority of the earthquakes that occur around the world.

The majority of earthquakes that occur in Indonesia are mild and cause very little to no damage. However, there have also been destructive earthquakes in the past.

In the month of February, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.2 struck the West Sumatra province, causing at least 25 deaths and more than 460 injuries. In the month of January 2021, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck the province of West Sulawesi, causing more than 100 fatalities and nearly 6,500 injuries.

In 2004, a powerful earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean killed 230,000 people in a dozen different countries, the majority of whom were in Indonesia.

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