Series Of Quakes Hit Eastern Indonesia, Killing 1

Tuesday, January 6th 2009, 6:09 am
By: News On 6

MANOKWARI, Indonesia – A series of powerful earthquakes killed a 10-year-old girl and seriously injured dozens in remote eastern Indonesia, briefly triggering fears of another tsunami in a country still recovering from 2004's deadly waves.

One of the quakes — of magnitude 7.3 — was felt as far away as Australia and sent small tsunamis into Japan's southeastern coast.

Residents near the epicenter in Papua province rushed from their homes in search of higher ground shortly after the first 7.6-magnitude quake struck Sunday at 4:43 a.m. local time (1943 GMT), afraid that huge waves might wash over the island.

The epicenter was about 85 miles (135 kilometers) from Papua's main city of Manokwari and occurred at a depth of 22 miles (35 kilometers), the U.S. Geological Survey said. It was followed by dozens of aftershocks.

Nearly fifty people were admitted to hospitals with broken bones and head wounds, while more than 300 were treated for minor cuts, scrapes and bruises, local health official Henri Sembiring said Monday.

About 135 homes and other buildings were badly damaged or toppled in the province, the National Disaster Coordination Agency said.

Officials initially reported four deaths, but later discovered three people had died from illnesses.

The 10-year-old girl was killed in her home when a wall collapsed, said hospital director Hengky Tewu. "Her head was crushed," he said.

Power lines fell, cutting off electricity, and the runway of Manokwari's Rendani airport was cracked, prompting the cancellation of commercial flights.

The government initially issued a tsunami warning but lifted it within an hour after it was confirmed that the epicenter was on land, not water.

Quakes centered onshore pose little tsunami threat to Indonesia itself, but those close to the coast can churn up large waves that sometimes reach the coastlines of other countries such as Japan.

Japan reported tsunamis between 4 inches (10 centimeters) and 16 inches (40 centimeters) high hitting its shores following the temblors.

A huge quake off western Indonesia caused the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed about 230,000 people. Four years on, the multibillion dollar rebuilding process is almost complete.

Residents in Papua's Manokwari — a jumble of low-lying brick and cement structures home to 167,000 people — remained wary of aftershocks.

"We don't feel safe," said Simon, 32, who like many Indonesians goes by one name. He was staying outside with his wife and three kids. "It's just in case there are strong aftershocks."

Local officials drove through the streets warning people not to return to structures that might be vulnerable if an aftershock hit.

The Indonesian Health Ministry was sending an aid team to Manokwari as well as four tons of medical supplies and baby food, spokeswoman Lily Sulistyowati said.

Relief agency World Vision Indonesia was flying in 2,000 emergency provision kits, including canned food, blankets and basic medical supplies, said spokeswoman Katarina Hardono. She said its team will try to reach Manokwari by plane, but if needed will make a 36-hour trip by boat.

Papua — located about 1,830 miles (2,955 kilometers) east of the capital Jakarta — is among the nation's least developed areas, and a low-level insurgency has simmered in the resource-rich region for years. It is off limits to foreign reporters.

The quake was felt 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) southwest of Papua in Australia's northern city of Darwin but no damage was reported there.


Associated Press writers Zakki Hakim and Niniek Karmini contributed to this report from Jakarta.