Padang: Two strong earthquakes hit Indonesia’s Sumatra island on 6 March , killing at least 70 people, flattening buildings and sending emergency operations into full swing to deal with the injured and displaced.
The tremors were felt as far away as Malaysia and Singapore, where several buildings were evacuated.
Scores of people were believed trapped under rubble on Sumatra, prompting the government to send in the military to assist with rescue efforts.
“Seventy people have been killed. The president has contacted the (West Sumatra) governor directly and right now evacuation process by the military and police is underway,” Sudi Silalahi told reporters in Jakarta.
Hospitals in some areas were overwhelmed with dozens of injured and fears of aftershocks pushed authorities in Padang to set up emergency tents in a soccer field.
Government officials began to rush aid to affected people, but a key road connecting Batu Sangkar and Padang was badly damaged hampering aid distribution.
“Our priority is to handle the injured ones, including their families. We have set up six tents at a soccer field as emergency posts,” Syamsu Rahim, the mayor of Solok town, told Reuters.
“The evacuation process is going on. I cannot predict how many people are still trapped because the process is still on. However, there are many houses collapsed, and I believe that the inhabitants are in them.”
The first quake of magnitude 6.3 was felt in the West Sumatra provincial capital of Padang at around 11 a.m., sparking panic among seaside residents who feared it might trigger a tsunami.
A second 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck the same area two hours later, causing more panic. However, there was no immediate tsunami warning after the quakes, which were on land.
The US Geological Survey said the first quake’s epicentre was around 420 km from Singapore. The Indonesian national quake centre measured the quake at 5.8.
Some buildings collapsed and several homes and other buildings were badly damaged by the tremors that sent several people scrambling for safety, including 200-300 patients who ran out of a hospital in Padang, a Reuters witness said.
“Many have calmed down and are returning home, but we can still see some traffic jams around the city,” the mayor of Padang, Fauzi Bahar, told Reuters.
Padang is one of the few Indonesian cities where a tsunami warning system is in place. A quake in the Indian Ocean off Sumatra island in December 2004 and the tsunami it caused left about 170,000 people dead or missing in Indonesia’s northern Aceh province.
“It was really strong. I panicked, I ran out of the house just like the other neighbours,” housewife Asmiarti, whose home is on the northern Padang shore, told Reuters by phone.
“When we got out, our bodies were still shaking and the trees were also shaking. We fear there would be a tsunami but there has been no announcement so far,” she said.
The quakes did not affect state oil firm Pertamina’s Dumai refinery in central Sumatra and caused no significant damage to a plant of Indonesia’s largest cement maker PT Semen Gresik.
Earthquakes are frequent in Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country. Its 17,000 islands sprawl along a belt of intense volcanic and seismic activity, part of what is called the “Pacific Ring of Fire”.
In March 2005, a quake killed hundreds on Nias island, off the west coast of northern Sumatra.
A Reuters witness said Padang residents tried to reach higher places and their vehicles crowded main streets, triggering congested traffic across the city.
Callers told a Jakarta-based radio station that residents in several West Sumatra towns ran out of their houses when the quake was first felt.
The quake was also felt across the city-state of Singapore where tall buildings in the business district swayed slightly, occupants said.
Traders said there was little or no impact on financial markets trading.
The tremor was also felt in west coast areas of Malaysia, the meteorological office in that country said.