News Australasia

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Dozens killed in powerful Indonesian earthquake

Rescuers use heavy machinery to search for survivors under the rubble (AP)
Rescuers use heavy machinery to search for survivors under the rubble (AP) Newsdesk Newsdesk

At least 54 people have been killed by a powerful earthquake in Indonesia's Aceh province, according to the military.

Scores more were injured and dozens of buildings collapsed, and a frantic rescue effort involving dozens of villagers, soldiers and police is under way in Meureudu, a severely affected town in Pidie Jaya district, which was closest to the epicentre.

Excavators and rescuers were trying to remove debris from shops and other buildings where people were believed buried.

Pidie Jaya District chief Aiyub Abbas said 25 people were killed in that area alone. A local health agency said eight were young children.

More than 40 buildings including mosques, stores and homes were flattened in the district 11 miles south west of the epicentre, according to Mr Abbas. Roads cracked and power poles toppled over.

Mr Abbas said there is an urgent need for excavation equipment to move heavy debris and emergency supplies. TV footage showed rescue personnel taking bodies in black bags away from the rubble.

The US Geological Survey said the shallow 6.5 magnitude earthquake was centered about six miles north of Reuleut, a town in northern Aceh, at a depth of 11 miles. It did not generate a tsunami.

For Acehnese, the quake was another reminder of their region's vulnerability to natural disasters. More than 100,000 died in Aceh after the December 26 2004 earthquake that triggered a devastating tsunami.

"It was very bad, the tremors felt even stronger than the 2004 earthquake," said Musman Aziz, a Meureudu resident. "I was so scared the tsunami was coming."

In the capital Jakarta, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said he has ordered all government agencies to take part in the rescue.

In Pidie Jaya's neighbouring district of Bireuen, a teacher at an Islamic building school died after being hit by falling debris, said health worker Achmad Taufiq.

About 20 people were being treated at a health centre and one was moved to hospital because of broken bones and a head injury, said Mr Taufiq.

Residents of the nearby town of Lhokseumawe ran out of their houses in panic during the quake and many people fled to higher ground.

The world's largest archipelago, Indonesia is prone to earthquakes due to its location on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin. The 2004 tsunami killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries.

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