Oz helps Padang prepare for big quake (The Sydney Morning Herald)

Adam Gartrell, Indonesia Correspondent

September 29, 2010


One year after the deadly West Sumatra earthquake locals are still bracing for The Big One - and Australia is helping them.

Last year's September 30 quake, measuring 7.6 on the richter scale, killed more than 1100 people and damaged or destroyed about 150,000 buildings in the provincial capital of Padang and surrounding areas.

But as devastating as it was - and Padang still bears the scars of rubble-strewn lots and semi-collapsed buildings - scientists say a much bigger quake is coming.

"Basically we're expecting a magnitude 8 to 8.5 earthquake ... directly off Padang," says Trevor Dhu of the Jakarta-based Australia-Indonesia Facility for Disaster Reduction.

"The science is as conclusive as the science can be."

The quake is predicted to hit sometime in the next few decades - which is about as specific as earthquake predictions get - and will almost certainly generate a tsunami.

"It could be tomorrow, it could be five years, it could be twenty years, but it is imminent," Dr Dhu says.

Which is why Australia is helping Indonesia run Build Back Better, an awareness campaign that aims to ensure that families who lost their houses in 2009 replace them with houses more likely to withstand future quakes.

It promotes a simple key message: Bukan gempanya, tapi bangunannya - It's not the earthquake, it's the buildings.

In the wake of last year's disaster an Australian-funded engineering team was deployed to survey which homes suffered the worst.

"The results of this survey were quite clear," says Jacqui De Lacy, head of AusAID in Indonesia.

"Dwellings that were built without basic reinforcing suffered five times more damage and were 10 times more likely to collapse than a reinforced masonry house."

Build Back Better promotes simple construction techniques - deeper foundations, the use of quality reinforced steel and anchors to strengthen the frame - that Australia hopes will save lives the next time the earth shakes.

Australia and the United States are also helping Indonesia rebuild 39 schools damaged in 2009.

Kampung Olo Primary School was hit hard: walls and ceilings collapsed; windows shattered; floors cracked open.

Fortunately, no students were killed. But the buildings were deemed unsafe and subsequently demolished.

Kampung Olo's 80 students are now studying in a nearby mosque while they wait for the school to be rebuilt - to earthquake resistant standards, of course.

During a visit to Kampung Olo this week Australian Deputy Ambassador Paul Robilliard said the school reconstruction program would enable 6500 children to return to formal education in a safe environment.

"Australia is committed to helping Indonesia reduce the human and economic toll of natural disasters which are a serious risk here," he said.

Australia is also rebuilding eight health facilities in Padang Pariaman, the community hardest hit by last year's quake.

Overall, Australia has provided $15 million in assistance for the area.