PADANG, INDONESIA // A powerful earthquake struck near the city of Padang on Indonesia's Sumatra island today, killing at least 75 people and trapping thousands under rubble, officials said. The death toll was likely to rise as many buildings in the city of 900,000 people had collapsed, the vice president Jusuf Kalla told a news conference in Jakarta. "We have received a report from the mayor of Padang that the death toll is 75. But many others are trapped in collapsed shops, building and hotels. It is difficult to know because it is dark now," Mr Kalla said.
Television footage showed devastation, with piles of rubble and smashed houses after the 7.6 magnitude earthquake, which caused widespread panic across the city. The main hospital had collapsed, roads were cut by landslides and Metro Television said the roof of Padang airport had caved in. Thousands were expected to spend the night in the open while a full assessment of the damage would need to wait until daybreak.
The disaster is the latest in a spate of natural and man-made calamities to hit Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago of 226 million people. Mr Kalla said the government was preparing for an emergency response of up to two months. The welfare minister Aburizal Bakrie said authorities should prepare for the worst, adding damage could be on a par with an earthquake in the central Java city of Yogyakarta in 2006 that killed 5,000 people and damaged or destroyed 150,000 homes.
The quake was felt around the region, with some high-rise buildings in Singapore, 440km to the north-east, evacuating staff. Office buildings also shook in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre cancelled an earlier tsunami alert. "Hundreds of houses have been damaged along the road. There are some fires, bridges are cut and there is extreme panic here," said a witness in the city, who also said broken water pipes had triggered flooding.
His mobile phone was then cut off and officials said power had been severed in the city. A resident called Adi later told Metro Television there was devastation around him. "For now I can't see dead bodies, just collapsed houses. Some half destroyed, others completely. People are standing around too scared to go back inside. They fear a tsunami," said Adi. "No help has arrived yet. I can see small children standing around carrying blankets. Some people are looking for relatives but all the lights have gone out completely."
Sumatra is home to some of the country's largest oil fields as well as its oldest liquefied natural gas terminal, although there were no immediate reports of damage to those facilities. Padang, capital of Indonesia's West Sumatra province, sits on one of the world's most active fault lines along the "Ring of Fire" where the Indo-Australia plate grinds against the Eurasia plate to create regular tremors and sometimes quakes.
A 9.15 magnitude quake, with its epicentre roughly 600km north-west of Padang, caused the 2004 tsunami which killed 232,000 people in Indonesia's Aceh province, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, and other countries across the Indian Ocean. The depth of Wednesday's earthquake was 85km, the United States Geological Survey said. It revised down the magnitude of the quake from 7.9 to 7.6.