Thursday, September 13, 2007

Aftershocks rock earthquake-hit Sumatra

Aftershocks rock earthquake-hit Sumatra

By Thomas Bell, South East Asia Correspondent, and Richard Holt

Powerful aftershocks have hit the Indonesian island of Sumatra the day after a massive deadly earthquake toppled buildings and triggered a full-scale tsunami alert around the Indian Ocean.

Bengkulu, Sumatra: Buildings collapsed as an earthquake measuring 8.4 on the Richter scale hit the Indonesian island
Many buildings collapsed and large cracks appeared in the ground on the island of Sumatra

At least six people have been confirmed dead and officials fear the number could rise.

The region has been on heightened alert ever since the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami which was caused by a quake which also struck off Sumatra.

Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, India and the Maldives all issued tsunami warnings after the quake which measured 8.4 on the Richter scale, but these were later lifted.

The aftershocks peaked at 7.7 on the Richter scale.

A small tsunami was reported to have hit the town of Padang, the provincial capital of West Sumatra, where buildings also collapsed in the initial quake.

More buildings in the town, weakened by the first earthquake, were brought down by the aftershocks and large cracks have appeared in the ground.

Mukomuko, on the west coast of Sumatra, was also severely damaged.

"Those with cracks are many, buildings of three floors or more are either fissured or collapsed," resident Budi Darmawan said after fleeing inland.

The first quake struck during prayer time in the predominantly Muslim nation, which is preparing for the holy month of Ramadan.

Tremors were felt in the national capital Jakarta and on the neighbouring island of Java, where offices were evacuated.

"After praying I felt the earthquake. I panicked, threw away my shoes and ran," one witness said.

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, said in a statement that a UN assessment team would be sent to the area.

Many of the affected areas are remote, making it difficult to ascertain the full extent of the damage

Tremors from the first quake were felt as far away as southern Thailand.

In Singapore, people fled in panic as high-rise buildings shook.

The 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which killed 131,000 people, was triggered by a huge quake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale which struck deep in the sea bed off Sumatra.

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