A strong 6.3-magnitude earthquake followed by a powerful aftershock shook Indonesia's Sumatra island Tuesday, causing at least 82 deaths, toppling buildings and raising fears for scores more trapped under the rubble, officials announced.
"The toll won't stop rising because the quake happened in a relatively populated region," said Damien Personnaz, a UNICEF spokesman, who first released the figure of 82 dead. Two UNICEF teams are on hand in Sumatra to monitor the aftermath of the tragedy.
Hundreds of others were injured, Rosmini Savitri, an official in the disaster zone, told AFP by phone. "The number of people injured has risen to 257," she said.
A US Geological Survey reported the quake had hit at 10:49 AM (03:49 GMT) around 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of the West Sumatra capital Padang. The areas of Tanah Datar, Solok and Padang itself were the worst affected. The quake seems to have been followed by an aftershock close to its original intensity.
Hospitals in Solok and across Sumatra were stretched to bursting point as casualties poured in, rescue coordinator Suryadi told AFP.
Earlier reports from a spokesman for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had placed estimates at 70 killed and scores injured.
It was announced Pres. Yudhoyono might well visit the disaster site and had activated an emergency relief system involving police, military, local authorities and government ministries.
Utjin Sudiana, West Sumatra's police chief, fuelled worries by telling AFP that the situation at the quake's epicenter remained uncertain since phone lines were down.
"The epicenter is in Batusangkar but communication is disconnected from there so we don't know what the damage is," he said.
Indonesia, an archipelago of some 17,000 islands, sits on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, a convergence point for tectonic plates – which consequently suffers from frequent major earthquakes.
Indonesia was the worst-affected nation by the earthquake-triggered Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004, which killed around 168,000 people in Aceh province alone on the northern tip of Sumatra.
(China Daily via agencies March 7, 2007)