Developing building-damage scales for lahars: application to Merapi volcano, Indonesia

Susanna Jenkins*, Jeremy Phillips, Rebecca Price, Kate Feloy, Peter J. Baxter, Danang Sri Hadmoko, Edouard de Bélizal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Lahar damage to buildings can include burial by sediment and/or failure of walls, infiltration into the building and subsequent damage to contents. The extent to which a building is damaged will be dictated by the dynamic characteristics of the lahar, i.e. the velocity, depth, sediment concentration and grain size, as well as the structural characteristics and setting of the building in question. The focus of this paper is on quantifying how buildings may respond to impact by lahar. We consider the potential for lahar damage to buildings on Merapi volcano, Indonesia, as a result of the voluminous deposits produced during the large (VEI 4) eruption in 2010. A building-damage scale has been developed that categorises likely lahar damage levels and, through theoretical calculations of expected building resistance to impact, approximate ranges of impact pressures. We found that most weak masonry buildings on Merapi would be destroyed by dilute lahars with relatively low velocities (ca. 3 m/s) and pressures (ca. 5 kPa); however, the majority of stronger rubble stone buildings may be expected to withstand higher velocities (to 6 m/s) and pressures (to 20 kPa). We applied this preliminary damage scale to a large lahar in the Putih River on 9 January 2011, which inundated and caused extensive building damage in the village of Gempol, 16 km southwest of Merapi. The scale was applied remotely through the use of public satellite images and through field studies to categorise damage and estimate impact pressures and velocities within the village. Results were compared with those calculated independently from Manning’s calculations for flow velocity and depth within Gempol village using an estimate of flow velocity at one upstream site as input. The results of this calculation showed reasonable agreement with an average channel velocity derived from travel time observations. The calculated distribution of flow velocities across the area of damaged buildings was consistent with building damage as classified by the new damage scale. The complementary results, even given the basic nature of the tools and data, suggest that the damage scale provides a valid representation of the failure mode that is consistent with estimates of the flow conditions. The use of open-source simplified tools and data in producing these consistent findings is very promising.

Original languageEnglish
Article number75
Number of pages17
JournalBulletin of Volcanology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sept 2015


  • Damage scales
  • Lahars
  • Merapi volcano
  • One-dimensional hydraulic flow simulation
  • Physical vulnerability functions
  • Volcanic hazard and risk assessment


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