Indonesian VP fears quake toll could hit 2,000

29 March 2005 | 13:37 Code : 4863 Geoscience events
Chafing on memories still raw with the after-effects of December's killer waves, a massive earthquake triggered considerable destruction and panic in Southeast Asia on Monday.

Chafing on memories still raw with the after-effects of December's killer waves, a massive earthquake triggered considerable destruction and panic in Southeast Asia on Monday.

About 300 are already estimated to have been killed by the magnitude 8.7 earthquake, which happened less than 100 kilometres west of Sumatra -- close to the spot where the quake that triggered the tsunami was centred.

That geological event registered a magnitude of 9.0 and triggered massive tsunamis that killed hundreds of thousands around the Indian Ocean.

Yusuf Kalla, Indonesia's vice-president, says the death toll on Nias Island will likely climb to between 1,000 and 2,000 once an accurate count is possible.

"With 80 percent buildings in Gunungsitoli having been damaged, that could happen," Kalla told an Indonesian radio station Tuesday.

In a telephone interview from just outside Gunungsitoli, Father Raymond Laia told Italy's MISNA missionary news agency that he could see a huge fire ravaging what's left of the town.

"From the window I see very high flames," he told the news agency. "The town is completely destroyed. I repeat, the town is completely destroyed."

Nias, which lies south of the latest quake's epicentre, also saw 340 residents die and another 10,000 lose their homes in the Dec. 26 disaster.

Acknowledging that damage from Monday's temblor could be much worse, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has said he will fly to the island to see for himself.

Foreign Affairs Canada said it is looking into whether any Canadians have been hurt in the earthquake zone, although at this point there are none reported or confirmed.


The quake struck at 11:09 a.m. ET (11:09 p.m. local time) at a depth of nearly 30 kilometres below the floor of the Indian Ocean and lasted about two minutes, said the U.S. Geological Survey.

A police officer in Gunungsitoli told The Associated Press that confusion and fear was clear in the many people still in panic hours after the initial shock.

"We are busy now trying to pull people or bodies of children from the collapsed building," Nainggolan, who uses only one name, said. "It is very hard also because there is no power."

"The situation here is really messy," he added. "Aftershocks keep hitting every half hour making thousands of people flee their homes and afraid to go home."

Seismologists believe the quake was centred in the same general area as the 9.0-magnitude quake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra on Dec. 26.

The powerful tremors from Monday's quake could be felt as far away as Malaysia, some 482 kilometres from the epicentre.

Keen to avoid tragic consequences of failing to issue a timely warning or respond to the disaster quickly enough, officials were quick to warn those in the region's coastal areas to be wary of a tsunami.

The widespread warnings were ultimately unnecessary, however, as the threat of a tsunami passed with the recording of just one relatively tiny wave -- measuring less than 10 centimetres at the Cocos Islands 2,000 kilometres west of Australia.

No damage was reported.

Talking to reporters on Monday, the UN's chief of humanitarian affairs was confident aid could reach affected areas quickly.

"There are more than a thousand international relief workers in Sumatra," Jan Egeland said Monday "So we're in a very different situation than we were on the 26th of December."

Jamie Hamelin of the Canadian Red Cross said their teams are among those in place to provide assistance wherever it's needed.

"We already have teams on the ground and have teams working so it really puts one piece of the puzzle in place," Hamelin said, noting the specifics will be worked out as the situation becomes clear.

"The next hours, the next days will determine that a little bit more."

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