Jakarta – Thousands of residents of West Seram Regency in Maluku fled to nearby mountains and forests on Tuesday amid fears of an incoming tsunami after fake news spread online following a deadly earthquake that jolted the region late last month.
They left their homes, bringing family members and valuables, after they received information saying that a tsunami would be coming on Wednesday.
The reports spread not only among the people living in western parts of Seram, but also in other regencies and cities, including in quake-affected areas of Central Maluku and Ambon.
Fatin Tuasamu, a local figure in Kairatu district, confirmed that many Kairatu residents had evacuated to the mountains and the forests to avoid the feared tsunami.
"Usually we climb in the evening, but many people in the village left the village during the day," Fatin said as quoted by kompas.com on Tuesday.
"All of us went to the mountains, only a few people stayed in the village," said Ramli, a resident of Waitasi hamlet in Kairatu village.
Ramli and his family chose to follow other residents to evacuate to the mountains in anticipation of another major earthquake and tsunami.
"We have our things with us. We took everything because we are afraid of a tsunami," he said, adding that he also heard someone had dreamed about a tsunami, which he believed might serve as a sign that the disaster might be coming.
Residents of other districts, including Amaltu and Elpaputih, also chose to flee to the mountains. "Our village is by the seashore therefore we just do what we can to avoid danger," said Martinus, a resident of Elpaputih.
A 6.5-magnitude earthquake hit Ambon and other areas in Maluku on the morning of Sept. 26, damaging more than 6,000 houses and at least 512 public facilities, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).
BNPB head Lt. Gen. Doni Monardo confirmed that as of Tuesday, at least 39 people had died while some 1,578 people were injured in the disaster. More than 170,000 residents are living in shelters.
The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) have recorded at least 1,181 aftershocks since the quake first hit the region.
Officials with BPBD Maluku and BMKG Ambon have called on residents to remain calm as they asserted that the circulating information was fake news and could not be confirmed.
"There is no tsunami [on Wednesday], it's a hoax, don't believe it," BPBD Maluku head Farida Salampessy said.
BMKG Ambon head Sunardi also appealed to locals not to believe the reports. "Do not panic as the intensity of the aftershocks is decreasing and getting smaller," he said. (gis)