Indonesia earthquakes kills at least 58

JAKARTA, Indonesia - At least 58 people died and 500 were injured in a powerful earthquake that lasted for minutes in the Indonesian island of Sumatra and was followed by hundreds of strong aftershocks today.

Widespread panic was reported in Bengkulu, a province of about 1.2 million people near the tremor's epicenter, as rescuers dug through the rubble of ruined buildings in search of bodies and trapped survivors.

Ali Muchtar, Bengkulu health department chief, said 58 people were confirmed dead - a total that was expected to rise. Almost 500 people had been reported injured, 255 seriously.

The quake hit at 11:29 p.m. Sunday and was centered beneath the Indian Ocean, about 60 west of Bengkulu city, which has about 250,000 residents. The Indonesian Meteorological and Geophysical Service said the quake measured magnitude 7.3. The U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo., estimated the strength at 7.9.

The quake lasted several minutes and shook a wide area. A magnitude 6 aftershock hit 11 minutes afterward, and more than 260 smaller tremors were recorded today. Initial reports said Enggano island, about 125 miles southeast of Bengkulu town, was also badly hit.

''The quake went on for many minutes. Dozens of homes have been destroyed and almost all houses and buildings in the city seem to have been damaged,'' said Bengkulu police Sgt. Hariyono. ''People are terrified every time they feel aftershocks.''

Thousands fled their homes. Witnesses reported widespread panic in Bengkulu and said hospitals were overwhelmed with injured people. Electricity and water supplies had been cut. Many phone lines were down.

Navy spokesman Rear Marshall Ontowiryo said two warships carrying food supplies and medical needs had been dispatched to the area.

''Many houses have collapsed and the walls on bigger buildings have been fractured. I helped save three of my neighbors who were trapped under rubble,'' said Edy, a resident who like many Indonesians uses only one name.

Doctors in Bengkulu treated the injured in the open, fearing aftershocks might bring down the state hospital, the official Antara news agency reported.

Medical supplies were running low. Antara reported that some doctors had been forced to perform minor operations without anesthetics.

The city's airport was closed because of damage to its communications equipment and passenger terminal. Some roads to the city had ben blocked by landslides.

President Abdurrahman Wahid offered no immediate emergency response, saying instead that his government had to assess the problem.

The quake, one of the strongest recorded in Indonesia in recent years, was felt across much of western half of the archipelago nation and the neighboring island state of Singapore.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake's epicenter was about 20 miles beneath the floor of the Indian Ocean - very shallow in geological terms. But there were no immediate reports of a tsunami, a massive wave caused by an earthquake or volcanic eruption.

In December 1992, a magnitude-7 earthquake caused a tsunami that killed about 2,500 people on the southeastern island of Flores. A magnitude-7 earthquake is capable of causing widespread and heavy damage in urban areas.

Indonesia, the world's biggest archipelago nation, sits on major fault lines and is prone to frequent seismic upheavals.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment