Wednesday, December 7, 2016

94 dead, hundreds injured in Aceh quake (Update)

JAKARTA: The 6.5 magnitude earthquake that struck Indonesia's Aceh province on Wednesday morning has claimed the lives of 94 people, said Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB).

So far, the death toll from the quake stood at 94 people, said Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, head of the Data and Information Division at BNPB.

Earlier, the Indonesian military had said 97 people had been killed as authorities pulled more bodies from the rubble of shattered buildings.

The BNPB earlier told the media 270 people had been injured in the quake, with 73 of them suffering serious injuries. It said some 245 buildings, including homes, shop houses and 14 mosques had collapsed, while a school and a hospital were also seriously damaged.

Emergency first-responders were frantically trying to reach victims trapped under the rubble.

Basarnas, Indonesia’s research and rescue agency, said the death and injury toll is expected to rise as rescue efforts in Pidie Jaya, a town about two hours' drive from the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, continues.

The quake hit just north of the small town of Reuleuet at 5.03am local time, reported the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and was felt across much of Aceh.

Local BNPB responders have deployed heavy machinery to clear debris so that rescuers can reach the victims.

The quake struck as some in the predominantly Muslim region prepared for morning prayers, local officials were cited by Agence France-Presse as saying. District official Apriadi Achmad said one of those killed was an elderly man, possibly from a heart attack.

There were fears for dozens believed to be trapped inside damaged homes, Achmad added.

“Several shop houses and homes have caved in in Pidie Jaya district and the owners are still trapped there,” Achmad, chief of the local disaster management office, told AFP.

“We are now deploying heavy machines to help out and hopefully we can save the ones who are trapped,” he said.

In the town of Sigli, people panicked and fled their houses to seek shelter away from the sea.

"We are now evacuating to Tijue (around 3km from Sigli) because we are afraid of a tsunami," said Nilawati, whose house is near the sea.

The temblor did not trigger a tsunami alert, however.  

"The epicentre (of the quake is on) land, not at sea, so no tsunami potential, but it means worse damage in buildings as we are seeing now," said Mr M. Riyadi, head of earthquake and tsunami department at the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG).

Aceh was hit by a huge undersea quake in 2004, which triggered a tsunami that engulfed the province on western Sumatra island, killing more than 170,000 people in Indonesia and tens of thousands more in other countries with coasts on the Indian Ocean.

Sumatra has been struck by at least two strong earthquakes this year. They include a magnitude-5.9 quake on April 10 about 61km south-west of Bengkulu, and a powerful magnitude-7.8 earthquake about 800km off the coast of Padang on March 2.

A tsunami, caused by a magnitude-7.5 quake, destroyed hundreds of homes in the Mentawai Islands, just off West Sumatra, in 2010. More than 461 people died in that disaster, which came not long after a catastrophic magnitude-7.6 earthquake in Padang in 2009 killed more than 1,100 people.

Five major quakes, including the catastrophic 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, have struck the city over the past 12 years, giving it the dubious distinction of being the earthquake capital of the world.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a belt of seismic activity running around the Pacific Ocean. The Straits Times/Asia News Network
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