JAKARTA (AFP, REUTERS) : A powerful earthquake rocked Indonesia’s Sulawesi island early Friday (Jan 15), killing at least 34 people, levelling a hospital and severely damaging other buildings, authorities said.
Hundreds more were injured when the 6.2-magnitude quake struck in the early hours, triggering panic among the terrified residents of the island, which was hit by a huge quake and tsunami two and a half years ago that killed thousands.
“The latest information we have is that 26 people are dead… in Mamuju city,” said Ali Rahman, head of the local disaster mitigation agency, adding “that number could grow”.
“Many of the dead are buried under rubble,” he said.
Separately, the national disaster agency said at least eight people had died in an area south of Mamuju, a city of some 110,000 in West Sulawesi province, bringing the total death toll to 34.
The epicentre of the quake was 6km north-east of Majene city at a depth of 10km.
Thousands had fled their homes to seek safety when the quake hit just after 1am local time on Friday morning, damaging at least 60 homes, the agency said.
Rescuers were searching for more than a dozen patients and staff trapped beneath the rubble of the levelled Mamuju hospital.
“The hospital is flattened – it collapsed,” said Arianto from the rescue agency in Mamuju city, who goes by one name.
“There are patients and hospital employees trapped under the rubble and we’re now trying to reach them,” he added, without giving a specific figure.
Rescuers were also trying to reach a family of eight trapped under the rubble of their destroyed home, he added.
The country’s search-and-rescue agency said at least one hotel had partially collapsed after the quake struck at 2.18am local time Friday (1818 GMT Thursday), while the regional governor’s office also suffered extensive damage.
A resident of Mamuju, the capital of West Sulawesi, said damage across the city of some 110,000 was extensive.
“Roads are cracked and many buildings collapsed, including the governor’s office as well as the hospital. The hospital has been flattened,” said 28-year-old Hendra, who goes by one name.
“The quake was very strong… I woke up and ran away with my wife.”
The United States Geological Survey said the epicentre was 36km south of Mamuju and that the quake had a relatively shallow depth of 18km.
Images supplied by the search-and-rescue agency showed what appeared to be metal building frames and other debris on the ground near a local hospital.
Another showed rescue workers checking on two sisters who were trapped under rubble. It was not clear where they were trapped.
The quake was felt strongly for about seven seconds but did not trigger a tsunami warning.
Videos on social media showed residents fleeing to higher ground on motorcycles, and a child trapped under the rubble as people tried to remove debris with their bare hands.
Some buildings were badly damaged, including two hotels, the governor’s office and a mall, journalist Sudirman Samual, who is based in Mamuju, north of the epicentre, told Reuters.
At least one route into Mamuju had been cut off, he said, because of damage to a bridge.
Hours earlier on Thursday, a 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck in the same district, damaging several houses.
Indonesia’s disaster agency said a series of quakes in the past 24 hours had caused at least three landslides, and the electricity supply had been cut.
Straddling the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire”, Indonesia, a nation of high tectonic activity, is regularly hit by earthquakes.
In 2018, a devastating 6.2-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami struck the city of Palu, in Sulawesi, killing thousands of people.
THE STRAITS TIMES