Powerful Earthquake Hits Indonesia, 42 Injured

Sunday, February 15th 2009, 5:53 am
By: News On 6

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Strong aftershocks continued to follow a powerful earthquake off eastern Indonesia that briefly triggered a tsunami warning Thursday, causing a stampede of residents to higher ground. Hundreds of buildings were damaged and at least 42 people injured, some seriously.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the shallow, 7.2-magnitude quake struck off Sulawesi island's coast at around 1:34 a.m. (1734 GMT; 2:34 p.m. Wednesday EST), shaking people from their sleep.

Indonesia is prone to seismic upheaval because it is located on the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanos and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.

Dozens of aftershocks as strong as magnitude 6.4 still shook the region late Thursday.

The Talaud island chain, in waters just south of the Philippines, felt the earthquake most intensely, said Rustam Pakaya, a government crisis center official, adding that Melonguane and Kabaruan were the towns hardest hit.

Nearly 500 buildings were damaged, including several schools, hospitals and churches, he said. Of the 42 people receiving medical care, 10 suffered serious injuries. Thousands of others were seeking refuge in shelters.

The quake briefly triggered a tsunami warning - delivered over mobile loudspeakers and by radio and television. It was lifted about an hour later after the threat of killer waves had passed.

"We were so afraid," said Damian Geruh, a Melonguane resident who described women screaming as they fled their homes. "We ran to a nearby hill. I saw others climbing trees."

The USGS said the early-morning quake, and the aftershocks that followed, were centered 195 miles (320 kilometers) from Manado, the northernmost city on Sulawesi island, and 12 miles (20 kilometers) beneath the ocean floor.

In December 2004, a massive earthquake off the country's western island of Sumatra triggered a tsunami that battered much of the Indian Ocean coastline and killed more than 230,000 people - more than half of them in Indonesia's Aceh province alone. A tsunami off Java island in 2007 killed nearly 5,000.