(AFP / Bay Ismoyo)

No, the exact time and location of an earthquake cannot be accurately forecast

Copyright AFP 2017-2021. All rights reserved.

False reports claiming that another huge quake was about to hit Sulawesi island -- which is already reeling from last Friday's double tragedy that has killed over 1,400 people -- have circulated online in recent days. While Sulawesi, like many parts of Indonesia, is prone to earthquakes, it is impossible to predict the exact time and location of a tremor, according to seismologists.

The same text was copied and shared in numerous Facebook posts, such as this one : "To residents of Makassar, Maros and Pangkep, please evacuate because there will be an earthquake around 6 pm tomorrow [October 2]. I got the information from studying maps and clouds. Please spread the news to your families who happen to live in the three regions."

It referred to three cities in South Sulawesi province, which borders Central Sulawesi province.

Central Sulawesi was hit by a series of earthquakes, the strongest of which measured 7.5 magnitude and triggered a tsunami, on September 28. The official toll on October 4 was more than 1,400 killed.

Widjo Kongko, an earthquake and tsunami mapping expert with Indonesia's Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT), told AFP the Facebook claim was untrue and that the precise time and location of an earthquake could not be accurately forecast.

"Many potential earthquake hotspots have been mapped out in Sulawesi… But even we [scientists] could not yet predict where and when an earthquake would occur," said Kongko.

In response to the question "Can you predict earthquakes?", the United States Geological Survey (USGS) states on its website:

Indonesia has cracked down on "fake news" about its deadly quake-tsunami disaster, with police arresting nine people for spreading hoaxes in a bid to prevent further panic spreading among survivors

"If anyone predicts another massive earthquake or tsunami, it's fake news," said Daryono, head of the geophysics agency's quake and tsunami information centre, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

"If you spread this kind of information, you're just going to create more suffering and confusion for people."

Teams from Indonesia's communications ministry and disaster agency have taken to Twitter and other social media to debunk fake claims in recent days.