Bali Blog

Earthquakes, yes, we have them

Of course, the hot topic right now is the volcano, Mt Agung and its pregnancy, however this condition heightens tourist’s awareness about earthquakes. A few tourists have felt them in their visits this past month, the largest being a mag 4.3 felt in Kuta and Ubud.

Some tourists have also felt smaller tremors related to Mt Agung's belly, as high as mag 3.5, a mag 3.2 just this morning on the North Bali coast came up on my phone App while writing this.

This is Indonesia, we have earthquakes all the time, and I mean all the time, my little phone app goes off every 30 minutes giving me a notice of anything above a mag 3 happening all over this vast and rocking Archipelago.  

What about bigger quakes?

Most of the time the quake felt on Bali is not on Bali itself, you can feel quakes here that are 100km+ away. 
We had a mag 5.5 in March of this year, just South of Bali, and it didn’t feel that strong to some, it really depends where you are on the Island.  Bali has felt a few biggies (6+) in the past decade, yet damage has been minimal and the death toll zero. 

Why is that?

Well, one reason is that many structures are made from bamboo, bamboo bends, it’s natures building material.

Another reason, the Building Code in Bali states that buildings cannot be taller than a coconut tree (15 metres). That rule gives us less tall buildings that might come tumbling down in a large quake.  The no taller than a coconut tree (I wonder who measured the tree) rule is due to a religious belief, however it certainly has a twofold benefit when it comes to earthquakes.   It is very sad to see the large illegal hotels being built above this height, disrespecting the culture while obscuring the beautiful horizon of Bali.

So, what do you do in an earthquake?

Now, while visiting this beautiful Island you may feel a small tremor from the volcano these generally don’t last very long at all.  For a tourist that has never experienced a quake before, no matter how long, this can be quite scary. For a tourist from New Zealand or California it may remind them of home.

Well, the first thing is not to panic!

In 2011 we had a mag 6.5 in the Bali Sea, felt strongly in Bali and 20+ Chinese tourists were injured from running outside their hotel and then standing next to the building entrance.  Roof tiles came falling on their heads, there was no damage whatsoever to the rest of the hotel.


If you remain calm you can determine the safest place in your surroundings.  This is really important, if an earthquake goes on for more than 10 seconds then it can intensify in magnitude and it is harder to move/walk etc.

If you have young children it is better to have discussed earthquakes with them before coming to Bali. Help them understand beforehand as sometimes they can be very loud (it can sound like a freight train coming towards you) and it will be difficult to talk to them during a quake.  It is important they do not panic or run.

If you are outside, just make sure you are not standing under power lines, a tree (those coconuts) or near a garden wall or edge of a building.

If you are inside, calmly move away from windows or freestanding objects, many Balinese hotels have large columns holding up ornate roofs, it is better to be near or hold on to one of those.

If it is a big earthquake and you are inside, sometimes it can be a bit strange trying to walk, but if you have a false ceiling above you best not to be standing under that, try to get under a strong table. I have had 2 come down and they leave a mess that you don't want on you.  If you have a bamboo/grass roof, that will just bend, so try holding onto a column to keep your balance and just stay there. If objects start to fall, drop down and cover your head with your arms.

If you are in a hotel with an elevator, do not use the elevator, do not use escalators.

If you are in bed, stay there, just calmly look to see what is on the wall above your bed, a nice ornate Balinese piece of art may come down and give you a nasty bump.  If you have a window close by pull up the covers and put a pillow over your head just in case the glass does smash.

If you are in a swimming pool and the quake continues for longer than 10 seconds then slowly exit the pool.

If you are sitting in a Balinese Bale, stay there, there is no way that thing is coming down, you might feel like you are on a ship….just hold on to your drink, you don’t want to waste it.

It is really important not to be near an exterior wall inside a building for quakes that go on for longer than 10 seconds. It’s wonderful that so many hotel reception areas and restaurants in Bali do not have exterior walls, that open air ambiance is practical as well.

It is really important not to be near glass cabinets or glass walls, in the 2011 quake Carrefour supermarket had serious damage and a very large glass block window shattered, some people received some nasty cuts.

If you are in a vehicle, have the driver pull over in a clear space (not under a coconut tree or power line) and stay inside the vehicle, most of the time here you won’t even know there was an earthquake if you are in a vehicle.

Aftershocks:  If it is a true earthquake, not just a tremor from Mt Agungs contractions, then there may be an aftershock, they can come that day or weeks later, in Bali we find they come about 4-6 hours later and less in intensity than the first but that is not to say it cannot be different the next time.

What about a Tsunami?  Having an earthquake app on your phone is a great way to track what just happened, it will show the quake and then any possible Tsunami warnings.  Remembering you may not feel a quake as it’s off somewhere else in Indonesia so if you are really concerned then just download an app that can give you that information…. a much better way to relax on your holiday then worrying about it.  If you are on the beach and a quake goes at high intensity for more than 10 seconds it is better to move to higher ground.

Always explain to your children how to prepare for natural disasters before coming to Bali, we have a lot of them here, they are generally part of living here and panic is usually the only thing that leads to injury.

Sing Ken Ken (no worries).

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