/ 2 September 2009

Quake kills 15 in Indonesia, toll may soar

A powerful earthquake killed at least 15 people and forced thousands to evacuate on Indonesia’s main island, the country’s disaster management agency said, adding the toll could climb much higher.

The 7,0 magnitude quake, as recorded by the United States Geological Survey, shook buildings in the capital Jakarta and flattened homes in villages closer to the epicentre in West Java.

Priyadi Kardono, an official at the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, warned the death toll could be much higher, as scores of houses and office buildings had collapsed or suffered severe damage.

”Communications with the coastal areas were completely cut, so we don’t know the conditions there. No reports have come from those areas, although we assume those were the most affected ones. It’s possible the death toll could grow higher,” he said.

The Health Ministry said it was sending medical teams to the affected areas in West Java. State news agency Antara reported that villagers were clearing away the rubble from collapsed buildings to try to find survivors and bodies.

”Many houses are flattened to the ground,” said Edi Sapuan in Margamukti village, not far from Tasikmalaya. ”Only the wooden houses remain standing. Many villagers are injured, covered in blood.”

”We ran as soon as the quake hit. Then five minutes later my house collapsed,” Edi told Reuters.

The quake was felt as far away as Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, about 500km northeast of Tasikmalaya, and on the resort island of Bali, about 700km to the east.

At least 27 people were injured in Jakarta, a Health Ministry official said.

Hundreds of people sheltered in a military base in Tasikmalaya, fearing the initial temblor would be followed by aftershocks, an official at the disaster management agency said.

Indonesia’s main power, oil and gas, steel, and mining companies with operations in West and Central Java island closest to the quake’s epicentre said they had not been affected and suffered no damage.

Tsunami warnings withdrawn
Indonesia’s 17 000 islands sprawl along a belt of volcanic and seismic activity known as the Pacific ”ring of fire”, and is one of the most quake-prone places on the planet. Local tsunami warnings were issued for coastal areas within several hundred kilometres of the epicentre soon after it struck, but were withdrawn about half an hour later.

Indonesia’s seismology agency put the magnitude at 7,3 with the epicentre 142km southwest of Tasikmalaya. The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said there was no threat of a widespread tsunami.

Residents in Jakarta reported buildings shaking, and thousands of people streamed on to the streets of the capital from office and apartment blocks.

”The chandelier started moving and it started shaking really strong,” said Jakarta resident Victor Chan, who lives in a 34th floor apartment. ”It lasted quite long. I was really scared and rushed downstairs.”

”Everything was shaking and my neighbour shouted ‘quake, quake’,” said Nur Syara, from the 31st floor of the same building. ”You could hear the walls creaking. I lay down on the floor. I was scared things would collapse.”

A witness in Tasikmalaya said several houses collapsed, including the mayor’s office, and a mosque was damaged. Other buildings were damaged in Bandung, West Java, a major city that is home to several universities.

”We were all studying and the building we were in started shaking for a few minutes and the ceiling fell,” said a man identifying himself as Evan.

Indonesian electricity firm PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN) initially said the quake did not disrupt services.

But an official later said that its Salak geothermal power plant in West Java, which has three 55-megawatts units operated by PLN, stopped briefly when the quake hit. — Reuters