MANOKWARI, Jan 4 – A string of powerful earthquakes rattled Indonesia on Sunday, leaving at least one dead and dozens injured, and triggering panic in the nation hardest hit by the 2004 Asian tsunami.
Indonesian authorities cancelled a tsunami alert issued after the first of several strong quakes early on Sunday morning, but by then thousands of people had fled their homes and were thronging roads leading from the coast.
A 7.6-magnitude quake hit before dawn about 150 kilometres northwest of Manokwari, the main city in the province of West Papua, which lies on the Pacific Ocean in the far east of Indonesia’s island chain.
A 7.5-magnitude aftershock and a procession of smaller quakes, one as strong as magnitude 6.1, later rattled the region, according to US and Indonesian seismological authorities.
One of the main tourist hotels in Manokwari was toppled and at least three people were pulled out of the rubble alive. Electricity in the city was down, and cracks could be seen in local buildings.
A 10-year-old girl was killed when a wall collapsed and at least 52 people suffered a variety of injuries, 37 of them in Manokwari, according to an AFP tally.
An employee said Manokwari’s Mutiara hotel was toppled by the second of the quakes, which hit around three hours after the first.
"Three hotel guests returned to their room after the first big quake. They failed to evacuate after the second powerful quake struck and got trapped in the hotel rubble," said the staffer, who gave his name as Harun.
The three people were pulled from the rubble and taken to hospital where they were treated for light injuries, he said.
A doctor at Manokwari General Hospital, Andi Tatat, said another three people were being treated for broken bones and open wounds, including one man who broke his legs after jumping from the fourth floor of the Swiss Belhotel.
"The man wanted to jump into the hotel’s swimming pool to evacuate but missed his target and landed on the ground," Tatat said.
Manokwari police chief Piet Wahyu said it was unlikely the toll would rise.
"Judging by the damage to buildings here, I don’t see there being any more deaths," he said.
"There were only two hotel buildings that were heavily damaged. One hotel collapsed while another hotel was only partly damaged," he said.
Another policeman in Manokwari who identified himself as Ketut described feeling the first tremors. "The quake was quite strong and we felt it for about three minutes. The electricity blacked out after the quake," he said.
In Sorong town, around 350 kilometres west of Manokwari at least four houses were levelled and 15 people were injured, an AFP correspondent there said.
Memories are still raw of the devastation wrought by the 2004 tsunami, which was set off by a massive undersea quake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The giant waves killed 168,000 in Indonesia’s Aceh province and Nias island.
The Indonesian archipelago sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, where continental plates meet and cause frequent seismic and volcanic activity.
The Ring of Fire stretches along the western coast of the Americas and through the island nations of the South Pacific and on through Southeast Asia.
Small tsunami waves triggered by the series of quakes reached Japan’s Pacific coast, but there were no reports of any damage there.