Series of powerful quakes rock eastern Indonesia

January 3, 2009 6:59:12 PM PST
A series of powerful earthquakes at dawn killed at least three people and injured dozens more in remote eastern Indonesia on Sunday, cutting power lines and badly damaging buildings. A 7.6-magnitude quake struck at 4:43 a.m. local time (1943 GMT) about 85 miles (135 kilometers) from Manokwari, Papua, at a depth of 22 miles (35 kilometers), the U.S. Geological Agency said. It was followed by a strong 7.5 aftershock.

Three bodies were found including a 10-year-old girl, hospital director Hengky Tewu told The Associated Press.

"Her head was crushed. We have our ambulances picking up two more," he said. Another 19 patients at the hospital were treated for broken bones, cuts, crushed fingers and other injuries.

Papua police chief Maj. Gen. Bagus Ekodanto said he received reports that a hotel and rice warehouse had been "destroyed," but he did not know if anyone had died.

Attempts were under way to search for possible victims. Several stories of the Mutiara Hotel in the main city Manokwari collapsed, said Ina, a nurse at a navy hospital treating 20 quake patients. Like many Indonesians she goes by a single name.

Electricity went off and people in the coastal city of 167,000 fled their homes in the dark, fearing a tsunami, said Hasim Rumatiga, a local health official. The Indonesian Meteorology and Seismology Agency issued a tsunami alert, but it was revoked within an hour after it was determined the epicenter was on land.

"My son's head was wounded when a cabinet fell on him," said Ferry Dau, a father of two who said the walls in his house were cracked. "It was very strong and scary. The power and phones went dead after the utility lines fell down."

Rahmat Priyono, a supervisor at the National Earthquake Center, said there was no immediate information on casualties or damage. "But since the epicenters were on land, they have a potential to cause significant damage." Papua, about 1,830 miles (2,955 kilometers) east of the capital Jakarta, is some of the nation's least developed territory. A low-level insurgency has simmered in the resource-rich region for years and it is off limits to foreign reporters.

Indonesia straddles a chain of fault lines and volcanoes known as the Pacific "Ring of Fire" and is prone to seismic activity. A huge quake off western Indonesia caused the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed about 230,000 people, more than half of them in Sumatra.


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