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Indonesia quake leaves thousands without shelter

At least 70 are dead. A fear of aftershocks kept many from buildings -- and serious injury.

March 07, 2007|Paul Watson and Dinda Jouhana | Times Staff Writers

JAKARTA, INDONESIA — Thousands of terrified Indonesians were searching for shelter Tuesday after an earthquake killed at least 70 people and damaged or destroyed hundreds of buildings on Sumatra island.

The magnitude 6.3 quake was centered 30 miles northeast of Padang, the capital of West Sumatra province, and struck at 10:49 a.m. Tuesday, the U.S. Geological Survey said. Hundreds of people were injured, most of them by falling debris.

Many escaped more serious injury because they fled buildings when the first quake hit and were outside two hours later when a powerful aftershock toppled scores of structures, said Gusmal, an official in Solok district, the hardest-hit area. Like many Indonesians, he uses one name.

"The first one was not that bad, but it made me tremble," shop owner Alam Nasrah Ikhlas said by telephone from Padang.

"I heard the thunder-like sound and the ground was shaking. I ran out of my shop. I saw everybody was panicked. They filled the street. It was so crowded. People were screaming and yelling, trying to go to a safer place."

Many survivors ran for higher ground, fearing a tsunami like the one in December 2004 that killed more than 229,000 people in several Indian Ocean countries. Tuesday's temblors left large cracks in shopping malls, government buildings and other structures, Ikhlas said.

Nasril, a civil servant in Solok, was riding his motorcycle to work when the road shook so violently he fell off. As people screamed, he saw a large wave cross nearby Lake Singkarak.

"I thought it was a tsunami," he said. "But as the quake diminished, the wave went down. People were running toward the hills."

Some of his neighbors' homes collapsed and dozens of houses near the lake were badly damaged, said Nasril, who planned to sleep outside with his family Tuesday night.

"I heard rumors spreading that there will be even stronger aftershocks later, so people are still alert," Ikhlas said.

In Solok town, dozens of injured were treated on a hospital's lawn. The town has enough doctors and medicine to care for the injured, but it may need more ambulances to move them. Mayor Syamsu Rahim told an Indonesian television network.

"We are still counting numbers of homeless," said Suryadi, a provincial emergency worker. "Hundreds of buildings are in various states of damage. For sure, most people are still waiting outside their houses."

Rescue teams continued to search for survivors Tuesday night, and the provincial government was rushing more tents and medicines to the quake zone, he said.

University student Mely Oktia Darni was at an Internet cafe when the quake hit.

"I thought it was just a light quake, but when it grew stronger, I panicked," she said. "The lights went out. And I saw the electricity pole was falling. Then I paid my bills and I ran out."

She tried to run home, where her mother was sick, but she couldn't get through the crowd.

"The second quake was stronger and almost all of my stuff at home fell down. Many items are broken -- glasses, vases, furniture."

By 5 p.m., after three large aftershocks, Darni was stocking up on food, fearing worse tremors were to come.

paul.watson@latimes.com

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