A strong undersea earthquake has rocked Indonesia’s Aceh province, killing at least 97 people and sparking a frantic rescue effort in the rubble of dozens of collapsed and damaged buildings.
Aceh military commander Major General Tatang Sulaiman said at least 97 had died as a result of the 6.5 magnitude earthquake, while four people were pulled from the rubble alive.
Another four or five were still believed to be buried, but he didn’t say if they were alive.
“Hopefully we would be able to finish the evacuation from the rubble before sunset,” said Sulaiman.
The rescue effort involving thousands of villagers, soldiers and police was concentrated on Meureudu, a severely affected town in Pidie Jaya district.
More than 300 people were injured, at least 73 seriously.
National disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Nugroho said at least 125 homes, 105 shops and 14 mosques had been destroyed.
Local residents were terrified the earthquake would trigger a tsunami, such as the one that devastated the region after the earthquake on Boxing Day, 2004.
PidIe Jaya resident Fitri Abidin said she fled with her husband and wailing children to a nearby hill after the quake jolted the family awake just before dawn and stayed there for several hours until authorities reassured them there was no tsunami risk.
The national disaster mitigation agency said at least 78 people had suffered serious injuries.
The rescue effort involving villagers, soldiers and police was concentrated on Meureudu, a severely affected town in Pidie Jaya district.
Excavators were trying to remove debris from shops, houses and other buildings where people were believed buried.
— Indonesian Red Cross (@palangmerah) December 7, 2016
The US Geological Survey said the shallow 6.5-magnitude earthquake that struck at 5:03 am on Wednesday was centred about 10 kilometres north of Reuleut, a town in northern Aceh, at a depth of 17 kilometres.
It did not generate a tsunami.
For Acehnese, the quake was another terrifying reminder of their region’s vulnerability to natural disasters. The 2004 quake and tsunami killed a total of 230,000 people in a dozen countries, with more than 100,000 of them in Aceh..
“It was very bad, the tremors felt even stronger than 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 had ordered all government agencies to take part in the rescue efforts.
Doakan Aceh! Dilanda gempa bumi hari ini. Berukuran 6.4 skala Richter. Ramai dilaporkan terkorban dan cedera. pic.twitter.com/eTv95CzeVg
— Malek Hussin (@AbdMalekHussin) December 7, 2016
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 person was moved to a hospital because of broken bones and a head injury, said 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.
At least five aftershocks were felt in the hours after the initial quake, BNPB said.