Monday night's Indonesian quake toll appears less than first feared

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Wednesday, March 30, 2005 Although Monday night's quake off Indonesia, at 8.7 on the Richter scale, was one of the ten largest in the past 100 years, the death toll has been relatively few. Damage was also less than expected, and the feared tsunami never eventuated. But 430 are confirmed dead, with aid workers guessing a final toll of 1,000 to 2,000.

Over 270,000 died following last year's December 26, 9.0-Richter quake and tsunami, prompting alarm when such a large quake struck on Monday night. Mass evacuations and alerts turned out to be unnecessary, when the potential hazard of a tidal wave failed to arise.

Initially Indonesian Vice-President Yusuf Kalla put the number of dead at the island of Nias, near the quake's epicentre, at up to 2,000. But officials who flew over the area said the damage could be less than expected.

Indonesian National Coordinating Disaster Relief Agency said only 330 were so far confirmed dead at Nias, with a further 100 coming from another island, Simeuleu, according to the head of the health office in Aceh province, Mulya Hasjmy, and numbers expected to rise as workers further explore the rubble.

The quake occurred offshore, with its centre around 205km west of Sibolga on Sumatra island, and 245km southwest of Sumatran city Medan, about 320km from that of the quake which caused December's tsunami.

Oxfam aid workers at Gunung Sitoli, the main town on Nias, described the scene. "The water system has failed completely and huge holes have been made in the roads," said Alessandra Villas-Boas. "Bodies are being pulled from the rubble as I speak."

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has declared a state of emergency, and is to visit Nias today. The airport there was found to be intact, patients were receiving medical treatment already, and a field hospital was in the process of being erected on mainland.

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