Jakarta. Thousands of foreign tourists have been evacuated from the Gili Islands in North Lombok district, West Nusa Tenggara, on Tuesday (07/08) as the government prioritizes efforts to get visitors out of harm's way following the magnitude-7 earthquake that devastated the region on Sunday evening.
The earthquake caused panic on the popular tourist islands of Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno, especially after the National Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) issued a brief tsunami warning.
Camera footage from the islands shows damaged hotels and cafés, with most visitors having had to spend the night outside over fears that numerous aftershocks may cause more buildings to collapse. Boats provided by the National Police, Indonesian Military and Ministry of Transportation started arriving at the islands on Monday to evacuate the tourists.
American tourist Michele Thompson spoke with Reuters about the evacuation efforts.
"It took a long time for boats to start happening, but where I was at, at the hotel there, everybody was just waiting quietly, but when the boats started up of course we'd have a little mad rush for a boat, but I think they were starting to have that more under order," she said.
Most of the tourist have been evacuated by Tuesday. "There were about 7,000 of them," Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto said, as quoted in the local media.
He denied reports claiming that foreign tourists had died in the earthquake. "The truth is, only residents and people working on the islands fell victim to the disaster," he said.
The government has also provided free buses to transport the tourists to Lombok International Airport.
The airport has extended its operations to 24 hours per day to accommodate additional domestic and international flights. National flag carrier Garuda Indonesia has added three extra flights to Lombok and issued full refunds and leeway for passengers wishing to reschedule or reroute their flights until Aug. 20.
Lion Air, Indonesia largest budget airline, said in a statement that it has provided 10 extra flights from Lombok.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has ordered that no efforts be spared to assist the tourists. "I asked the Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs to handle the relief efforts to the best of its ability. I will not tolerate a single compromise in our relief efforts, particularly in the scheduling of flights," the president said in an official announcement on Monday.
Dessy Ruhati, chairman for crisis management at the Ministry of Tourism, said on Tuesday that some tourists, especially those in the Senggigi area on the western part of Lombok Island, have decided to stay.
"Many of them are still enjoying the holiday atmosphere, like at Senggigi Beach. A few of the tourist destinations on the island are still operating normally. Visitors to Gili Air and Gili Trawangan are switching to other destinations, among them Bali, Jakarta and East Java," Dessy said.
However, the disaster is expected to cause a significant decline in tourist arrivals in the near future. Dessy said the number of tourists visiting Bali fell by around a million after last year's eruption of Mount Agung.
"Although a decline in visitor numbers in Bali did occur, it has since been proven that those numbers will eventually return to normal. These declines are natural when information about the disaster is spread through news or social media, but it turns out Indonesia has an impressive capacity to handle disasters," Dessy said.
Tourism Minister Arief Yahya has expressed his gratitude towards all parties for their quick response in supporting the evacuation of tourists following the Lombok earthquake.
"This is what we like to call Indonesia Incorporated. Tourists will feel more secure when vacationing in Lombok, Bali and in Indonesia in general, because they always receive excellent service in the event of a disaster," he said.