Collective fear in Jakarta: rumours of new quakes spread by SMS
by Mathias Hariyadi

A chain of cell phone and email messages raising the alarm about possible tremors is generating a climate of paranoia in skyscrapers of the capital: employees are leaving their desks and staying at the entrance of buildings or outdoors.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Repeated seismic tremors in Indonesia have made the people completely paranoid: the syndrome has hit especially those employees who work in Jakarta's skyscrapers. Nowadays, they prefer to stay outdoors chatting with colleagues rather than sitting at their desks inside.

The collective fear is fed by a chain of SMS that is spreading rumours about possible tremors among residents of the capital. One employee, Muzaki, said: "There is an atmosphere of panic in the skyscrapers of multinationals, where people are discussing further probable natural disasters." In the high building of the Jakarta stock exchange in Semanggi, the city's central neighbourhood, many employees were asked to go home. One said that others decided to leave their work stations to stay on the ground floor.

The same scenario can be seen in other neighbourhoods like Thamrin, HR Rasuna Said and Gatot Subroto: the lobbies of buildings are full of employees "on a compulsory break". Irfandi, who lives in Jakarta, said his wife is "terrorized by the rumours spread by colleagues by SMS and email about an imminent earthquake in the city and its whereabouts."

But the panic is not limited to Jakarta alone. Yesterday, thousands of people in Banteng, Bulukumba and Jeneponto – South Sulawesi province – left their homes on the coast en masse to take refuge in higher land after a false tsunami alert. After slight tremors in the area, the surface of the ocean lowered, giving rise to fears of the onset of a freak wave. This morning, the situation appeared to have returned to normal. Local authorities said "thousands of people have already decided to go home".