Another powerful quake struck south of the devastated area, but Indonesian authorities have reported no immediate casualties.
Over 1,000 feared dead in Indonesia quake
Rescue workers raced against time on Thursday to assist victims of a huge earthquake on Indonesia's Sumatra island where upwards of 1,000 people are feared dead and many more trapped in rubble. Another powerful quake struck on Thursday south of the devastated area, but Indonesian authorities said there were no immediate reports of casualties from that quake, which they measured at 7.0 magnitude. Wednesday afternoon's 7.6-magnitude earthquake caused buildings to crumble and fires to rage in Padang city, home to nearly a million people on the coast of Sumatra island, which was left largely without power and communications.
"The rescue personnel in the location estimated that so far at least 200 people have died," a Disaster Management Agency spokesman, Priyadi Kardono, said in Jakarta. But that number was likely to soar, officials said, as the first outside rescue teams from the Indonesian army and health ministry reached the city and surrounding towns to reinforce overwhelmed police on the ground. Their task was to hunt for those still alive, in the twisted wreckage of collapsed hospitals, schools and homes.
"We need heavy machinery to lift the rubble - we expect that to arrive at the location soon," Mr Kardono said. At Padang's airport, parts of the roof had collapsed, leaving metal beams hanging down, an AFP correspondent said. The head of the health ministry crisis centre, Rustam Pakaya, told AFP that a major city hospital was among the many buildings that had buckled. "Houses and buildings have collapsed, causing thousands of people to be trapped inside in the rubble," Mr Pakaya said.
He said he expected the death toll to soar over 1,000, given the scale of destruction and the large numbers of people feared buried in the rubble. Yanto, a hotel receptionist in Padang, said electricity remained cut off on Thursday morning more than 15 hours after the quake. "Our hotel has been heavily damaged. There are many cracks and rubble from fallen concrete," he said. "Thank God all our guests survived."
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, briefing reporters in Tokyo as he returned from the G20 summit in the United States, urged officials to "flood" the city with aid and medical relief. Three military transport planes were preparing to deliver aid including tents, blankets and medicine, Mr Kardono said. "The effects of the earthquake could be as big as the Yogyakarta quake," he said, referring to a quake in 2006 that killed 6,000.
The British-based charity Oxfam said it had already earmarked £200,000 (Dh1.17 million) for relief efforts, including the distribution of emergency shelters, hygiene kits and clothing. "We had aid ready because this area of Indonesia is susceptible to this type of tragedy," said Jane Cocking, the organisation's humanitarian director. Panicked residents rushed from their homes and went fleeing through the streets after the quake struck off Sumatra's west coast at 5.16pm local time, 47 kilometres north-west of Padang.
It was felt in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, 940 kilometres away, and sent frightened office workers streaming out of buildings in nearby Singapore and the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. Dozens of aftershocks followed, including the big one on Thursday that the US Geological Survey measured at 6.8 and said it hit on land 225 kilometres south-east of Padang. The Japan Meteorological Agency said there was a "very small possibility" of a destructive local tsunami in the Indian Ocean.
The Indonesian earthquakes came after a massive quake measuring 8.0 in magnitude that spawned a deadly tsunami in the Samoan islands of the South Pacific. Like Indonesia, the islands sit on the "Ring of Fire," a massive zone of volcanic instability that encircles the Pacific. Geologists said Padang, which lies near the colliding Indo-Australian and Eurasian tectonic plates, was vulnerable to more quakes and tsunamis.
"There are three big volcanoes in West Sumatra ? Merapi, Talang and Tandikat. We fear that this quake might cause volcanic eruptions there," the head of the Geological Disaster Mitigation and Volcanology Centre, Surono, told AFP. Padang lies on the same tectonic fault line that cracked off Aceh, at the northern tip of Sumatra, in 2004 to trigger the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 220,000 people. * AFP