The East Java Tsunami

June 3, 1994

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Description of the Event:

An earthquake of magnitude Mw 7.6 occurred off the southeast coast of Java Island, Indonesia, at 01h17m local time on June 3, 1994 (18h 17m on June 2 GMT). The epicenter was at 10.5S, 113.0, about 240 km from the nearest coast. The shock was felt on east Java island and on Bali Island, but only awakened ten to twenty percent of the inhabitants on even the nearest coasts. No earthquake damage was reported on land. However, about 50 minutes after the main shock, a large tsunami struck southeast Java and southwest Bali, causing serious damage. In total, 223 persons lost their lives, approximately 400 were injured, and over 1000 houses were destroyed.

In east Java, most of the damage and casualties were concentrated in villages built inside pocket beaches with mild slope and bounded by large steep headlands. The villages of Pancer and Lampon, where some of the most severe damage occurred, were built on sand bars; small rivers run behind them, sandwiching them between the coastline and the river channel. Under normal conditions, this allows for the mooring of fishing boats behind the villages during storms. However, it also allowed for overland flow during the tsunami attack.

The damage at Pancer was reminiscent of the damage resulting from a tsunami which struck El Transito, Nicaragua, in 1992. The conditions were similar: an earthquake of Ms 7.2, centered over 100 km offshore, resulted in approximately 120 casualties and runup ranging from 5 - 10 m. In Pancer, 118 people were killed, and more than 500 sustained injuries. The maximum measured runup was 9.4m, at the seaside part of the town, and 7.4m in the center. Surface elevation is about 5m. Out of a total of 996 houses, 704 were destroyed. Since these houses were home to over 3,000 people, and the tsunami struck at midnight, the mortality of 3.9% can be considered very low.

The residential area of Lampon is in a similar situation, located on a sand bar at the mouth of a river. Sea water invaded the village from both the ocean side and the river side. Runup was measured as 5.4m in the residential area, and 9.1m at a point on the seaside. Forty of the 645 residents died, and 65% of the 171 houses were destroyed. Only a few trees had been planted in front of the village, which did virtually to restrain the wave.

The village of Rajekwesi suffered the worst damage. The portion of the village fronting a wide beach was flattened to a distance of more than 400 m from the coastline. The beach was completely washed away, and replaced by a 1.8m high step (see photo). Runup measurements ranged from 4.2 - 14.0m. The peak value was recorded on a steep hillside near a river mouth at the east side of the village.

Damage in west Bali was limited to beach erosion, with runup heights ranging from .5 - 4.1m. Similar damage was the case along the rest of the Java coast, with runup averaging about 4m. The tsunami was recorded along the northwestern Australian coastline, about 300 km south of Java, at around 06:15 WST, making the mean travel speed of the tsunami from the source about 350 km/hr.

Click here for a first hand account of several surfers caught in the tsunami