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Published: Thursday, 10/1/2009

At least 200 dead, thousands trapped as earthquake hits Indonesia

FROM THE BLADE'S NEWS SERVICES

JAKARTA, Indonesia - A powerful earthquake that struck western Indonesia yesterday triggered landslides and trapped thousands of people under collapsed buildings - including two hospitals, an official said.

At least 200 bodies were found in one coastal city and the toll was expected to be far higher.

The temblor started fires, severed roads, and cut off power and communications to Padang, a coastal city of 900,000 on Sumatra island. Thousands fled in panic, fearing a tsunami.

Buildings swayed hundreds of miles away in neighboring Malaysia and Singapore.

Indonesian television stations showed images of flattened hospitals, hotels and houses, burning cars, and terrified residents running in the center of the city.

Power and telecommunications were cut, complicating rescue efforts when night fell.

In the sprawling low-lying city of Padang, the shaking was so intense that people crouched or sat on the street to avoid falling. Children screamed as thousands of people tried to get away from the coast in cars and motorbikes, honking horns.

At least 500 buildings in Padang, the regional capital, collapsed or were badlydamaged, Priyadi Kardono, Disaster Management Agency spokesman said, adding that 200 bodies had been pulled from the rubble there.

The extent of damage in surrounding areas was still unclear because of poor communications, he said.

The magnitude 7.6 quake hit at 5:15 p.m. local time just off the coast of Padang, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. It occurred one day after a killer tsunami hit islands in the South Pacific and was along the same fault line that spawned the 2004 Asian tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen nations.

The epicenters of the two quakes this week were located about 6,000 miles apart in an unsettled region. There was no relationship between the undersea earthquake that caused the Samoan tsunami and the latest strong earthquake in Indonesia, said Julie Dutton, a geophysicist at the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo.

A tsunami warning was issued yesterday for countries along the Indian Ocean, but was lifted after about an hour; there were no reports of giant waves.

The shaking flattened buildings and felled trees in Padang, damaged mosques and hotels, and crushed cars. A foot could be seen sticking out from one pile of rubble. At daybreak, residents used their bare hands to search for survivors, pulling at the wreckage and tossing it away piece by piece.

"People ran to high ground. Houses and buildings were badly damaged," said one woman named Kasmiati, who lives on the coast near the quake's epicenter.

"I was outside, so I am safe, but my children at home were injured," she said before her cell phone went dead. Like many Indonesians, she uses one name.

The loss of telephone service deepened the worries of those outside the stricken area.

"I want to know what happened to my sister and her husband," said Fitra Jaya, who owns a house in downtown Padang and was in Jakarta when the quake hit. "I tried to call my family there, but I could not reach anyone at all."

Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari told MetroTV that two hospitals and a mall collapsed in Padang.

"This is a high-scale disaster, Mr. Supari said.

Hospitals struggled to treat the injured as their relatives hovered nearby.

Indonesia's government announced $10 million in emergency response aid and medical teams and military planes were being dispatched to set up field hospitals and distribute tents, medicine, and food rations. Members of the Cabinet were preparing for the possibility of thousands of deaths.

Rustam Pakaya, head of the Health Ministry's crisis center, said thousands of people had been trapped under the collapsed houses. It was unclear how many people were still missing or trapped by morning.

"Many buildings are badly damaged, including hotels and mosques," said an official at the Meterology and Geophysics Agency named Wandono, citing reports from residents.

Local television reported more than two dozen landslides. Some blocked roads, causing miles-long traffic jams of cars and trucks.



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