Powerful quake strikes Indonesia
By Peter Gelling
New York Times
Copyright 2007 The New York Times
JAKARTA, Indonesia — A powerful earthquake centered near the Indonesian island of Sumatra toppled buildings on Wednesday and set off a tsunami alert for the Indian Ocean. At least seven people were killed and 100 injured, The Associated Press reported, quoting local news accounts.
The National Weather Service’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said sea level readings showed that the earthquake, which had a magnitude of 8.2, did indeed generate a tsunami, and that it may have caused destruction along the coast.
In December 2004, a series of giant waves thrashed Banda Aceh, Indonesia, killing 130,000 people. Scientists who have studied the area have warned that Padang, Indonesia, was particularly at risk for powerful earthquakes and tsunamis as the geological rupture that caused the 2004 destruction travels south.
A wave of up to 9 feet was reported to have hit Padang about 20 minutes after the quake, said Suhardjono, an official with Indonesia’s meteorological agency, the A.P. reported. But there had been no sightings of strong tidal waters two hours after the earthquake, usually the critical time for the formation of a tsunami.
The warning center said Wednesday after issuing the tsunami watch for the Indian Ocean that local authorities were responsible for making their own assessments about a potential tsunami.
The earthquake also damaged villages, but the full extent of the destruction was not immediately known. The earthquake was centered near a sparsely populated area, and nongovernmental organizations in the region said they were not expecting a large loss of life. The first earthquake was followed 30 minutes later by a strong aftershock.
The undersea quake struck at about 6:10 p.m. local time (7:10 a.m. Eastern time), the United States Geological Survey said. It was centered 65 miles southwest of Bengkulu, on Sumatra island, at a depth of 9.7 miles, the U.S.G.S. said. Bengkulu, a remote coastal forest area with plantations, was believed to be the hardest hit. There were also reports of collapsed houses in a small village.
The seven reported fatalities were in three Sumatran towns, a Social Affairs Department official, Felix Valentino, told the news Web site detik.com, according to the A.P.
The quake caused buildings to sway about 375 miles away in Jakarta, where residents were evacuated from their apartments. Phone lines and electricity were cut.
Aid agencies said they were poised to offer relief, though they were having trouble with communications and logistics.
“We have partners and programming in these areas and are positioned to respond,” said Rich Balmadier, the country director in Indonesia of Catholic Relief Services, which has an office in Medan, Sumatra, and four other areas. “In some cases, we can’t get through, which is worrisome,” he said in an e-mailed statement.