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Indonesian quake kills 529, thousands trapped under rubble

Padang (Indonesia), Oct 1 (DPA) At least 529 people have been killed and 423 were injured in a powerful quake that struck Indonesia’s West Sumatra province, the Social Affairs Ministry said Thursday.

In the provincial capital, Padang, which was the hardest-hit area in Wednesday’s magnitude-7.6 earthquake, as many as 376 people were killed and more than 100 others were injured, said Novianto, an official at the ministry’s coordinating post.

“The death toll is likely to rise further as there are hundreds of people reportedly trapped under rubble of collapsed buildings,” said Novianto, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name.

The National Disaster Management Agency said in its website that thousands of people were still trapped.

Earlier, Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said thousands of people might have been killed in the quake while damage could be worse than an earthquake in the Central Java city of Yogyakarta in 2006 when more than 5,800 people were killed and more than 150,000 buildings destroyed or damaged.

The deaths occurred in five districts of West Sumatra hit hardest by the quake, said Tugio Basri, an official at the Social Affairs Ministry’s coordination post in Jakarta.

Wednesday’s quake had also displaced thousands of people and damaged key infrastructure, including telecommunications, roads, bridges and water supply systems, witnesses said.

Another quake, measuring 7 on the Richter scale, jolted the adjacent Jambi province about 225 kilometres south-east of Padang Thursday morning, destroying or damaging hundreds of buildings and making thousands homeless.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths from the second quake, officials said.

“There was panic, but yesterday’s quake was felt stronger here,” said Romi Suwanto, an official in Jambi’s Kerinci district near the epicentre of the quake.

Television footage from Padang showed scenes of devastation with hundreds of buildings – including a four-story religious court, shops and homes – flattened. One shot showed a buried victim’s foot ticking out from the rubble.

TV One showed rescuers using a mechanical excavator to remove debris at a school where locals claimed up to 60 students were trapped. Seven people were rescued from the building and four found dead, the channel said.

“I will be waiting until they find my daughter,” a weeping mother whose 13-year-old was believed trapped under the rubble told TV One.

Rescue workers, made up of soldiers and police officers, were shown pulling several female bodies from the ruins of a three-story school building as relatives of the missing watched.

Dadang Hanidal, head of the regional disaster coordinating agency, was quoted by the Kompas daily as saying that up to 200 guests remained trapped under the rubble of the collapsed Hotel Ambacang in Padang.

Survivors spent the night outdoors in the dark with electrical power cut off. Rescue efforts have been hampered by the disruption of telecommunication lines while roads into the city were blocked by landslides.

Six government ministers flew Thursday to Padang, and two Hercules C-130 military cargo aircraft departed from Jakarta carrying doctors and relief supplies such as tents, medicines and food.

The districts of Padang Pariaman and Sungai Giringging are among the hardest-hit areas with hundreds of homes collapsed, officials said.

Wednesday’s quake struck at 5.16 pm (1016 GMT) off the western coast of Sumatra. A magnitude-6.2 aftershock followed 22 minutes later.

Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago nation, sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, the edge of a tectonic plate prone to seismic upheaval.

A major earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck in Dec 2004, leaving more than 170,000 people dead or missing in Indonesia’s Aceh province and 500,000 people homeless.

Wednesday’s quake occurred along the same fault line.

Geologists have said that Padang, a low-lying city of 900,000 people, risks being swallowed by a tsunami in the event of an earthquake similar in magnitude to the one that triggered the giant 2004 wave. An earthquake struck Padang in 2007, killing dozens of people and injuring scores of others.