Over 700 killed after earthquake in Indonesia

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Indonesian officials have said that at least 770 people have been killed and thousands more feared trapped under collapsed buildings, following a powerful earthquake on Wednesday.

Beach in Padang, Indonesia (2007)
Image: MichaelJLowe.

The 7.6-magnitude quake struck off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and officials are trying to determine the extent of the damage. A second earthquake hit the region at 01.52 UTC on Thursday, measuring at a magnitude of 6.8, with the epicentre about 150 miles southeast of the first quake.

The death toll is expected to rise as rescue workers dig through the rubble, and the Indonesian health ministry said it believes that the death toll could go into the thousands. Hundreds of people are believed seriously injured. As of 13.00 UTC, a disaster ministry official said that the official death toll was at 770, with 290 people being heavily wounded and a further 2,090 receiving light injuries.

However, prime minister Jusuf Kalla said that the true death toll was "definitely higher" than the current statistics, due to difficulties recovering bodies. "It's hard to tell because there is heavy rain and a blackout," Kalla said.

Most of the deaths have been reported in the Sumatra city of Padang, where at least 500 buildings were toppled by the quake. A hospital, hotel, and school facilities were among the buildings destroyed in Padang, a coastal city of 900,000.

We really need help. We call on people to come to Padang to evacuate bodies and help the injured.

—Mayor of Padang

Padang's mayor, Fauzi Bahar, asked for help on Indonesian radio. "We really need help. We call on people to come to Padang to evacuate bodies and help the injured," he said, saying that his city was "overwhelmed" by the earthquake.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the country's president, visited some of the areas most affected by the disaster. "I ask rescue workers to continue working in teams with clear goals to keep looking for survivors" he said. "[...] This is a natural disaster, so let us remain strong in dealing with it."

Titi Moektijasih from the United Nations Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that the current disaster recovery efforts were not sufficient. "Compared to the extent of the damage, you see there should be more equipment, more people to do this," she told the AFP news agency.

The Red Cross' head of operations in Indonesia, Bob McKerrow, told the BBC news agency that it was difficult to dispatch personnel to affected areas due to poor infrastructure. "it's just such a vast area to be working in with such bad infrastructure," he said. "[...] The roads and bridges have all been damaged, so [there is] a challenge ahead of us." McKerrow said that 400 personnel, among them fifty doctors, had arrived in Indonesia by airplane on Thursday.

Indonesian health minister Siti Fadilah Supari said that a mall and two hospitals in Padang were destroyed by the tremors. "This is a high-scale disaster, more powerful than the earthquake in Yogyakarta in 2006 when more than 3,000 people died," he said.

Indonesia's government has sent medical teams and military planes to help with relief efforts, and announced $10 million in emergency aid. The British Red Cross started a fundraiser to help people affected by the earthquake.

Are you in the area? Have you been affected in some way by the earthquake?

The earthquakes were the latest in a string of natural and man-made disasters to hit the sprawling archipelago of 226 million people.

Indonesia is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin. In 2004, a 9.1-magnitude earthquake along the same fault line caused a massive tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people in a dozen countries.

Scientists had warned that a severe earthquake might strike the area for some time, however, Indonesia did not have sufficient funds to pay for disaster preparation measures, the Al Jazeera news agency reported.