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Tsunami Hazard and Built Environment Damage Observations from Palu City after the September 28 2018 Sulawesi Earthquake and Tsunami


The 2018 Sulawesi earthquake (Mw 7.5) and tsunami destroyed many buildings and caused more than 3300 fatalities in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Damage reports and satellite images from Palu City indicated severe tsunami impacts to buildings and lifelines infrastructure within 300 m from the coastline. Seven-weeks after the earthquake a field survey was carried out in Palu City to measure tsunami flow depths and record damage levels for buildings, roads and electricity infrastructure. Above ground level tsunami flow depths measured at 371 building sites ranged from 0.1 to 3.65 m, with a 1.05 m mean and 0.55 m standard deviation. The survey team also recorded attributes and damage levels for 463 buildings, 7.9 km of road and 455 utility poles. We observed that non-engineered ‘light timber’ and ‘lightly reinforced concrete’ construction frame buildings were highly susceptible to ‘non-structural’ component damage when tsunami flow depths respectively exceed 0.4 m and 1 m above the first finished floor level, while unrepairable or complete building damage was regularly observed when flow depths exceeded 1.2 m. Only non-structural component damage was observed for engineered ‘reinforced concrete’ buildings. While tsunami flow depth traces could not be measured for affected road and utility pole components, hazard intensity parameters can be obtained from tsunami inundation maps to estimate the conditions contributing to observed damage levels. The information presented herein forms an important evidence base to support future tsunami hazard and risk research in Indonesia.

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The authors are sincerely gratefully to the people of Palu City for supporting our field survey activities. The authors would like to thank the Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics (BMKG) and Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education (MORTHE). We acknowledge and thank all supporters of the survey including: GNS Science (Project: 470RSS10-00), Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (NZ); National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Project: CARW1901); University of Canterbury (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Natural Hazard Research Platform contract C05X0804); Universitas Gadjah Mada; Universitas Tadulako. The field team were provided excellent logistical support by the StirrrD project team (Ben Payne, Faisal Fathani, Fransisca Ediningtyas, Michele Daly and Richard Woods) and Universitas Tadulako (Amar Akbar Ali; Andi Rusdin and Ida Sri Oktaviana). We also acknowledge the excellent support of Laura Kong from UNESCO ITIC and Ardito Kodijat from UNESCO IOTIC in facilitating our field survey activities. LiDAR data for Palu City was provided by Australia-Indonesia Facility for Disaster Reduction (AIFDR).

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Paulik, R., Gusman, A., Williams, J.H. et al. Tsunami Hazard and Built Environment Damage Observations from Palu City after the September 28 2018 Sulawesi Earthquake and Tsunami. Pure Appl. Geophys. 176, 3305–3321 (2019).

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  • Tsunami flow depth
  • tsunami impact
  • post-event Survey
  • Palu City
  • Indonesia