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Indonesia quakes' death toll rises to 23

September 16, 2007|From Times Wire Services

PADANG, INDONESIA — The toll from a series of earthquakes on Indonesia's Sumatra island has risen to 23 dead and 88 injured, and more than 13,000 homes were destroyed or damaged, officials said today.

Since an 8.4-magnitude quake struck off the coast of western Sumatra on Wednesday evening, there have been at least 60 strong aftershocks and numerous tsunami warnings, which were subsequently withdrawn.

Rustam Pakaya, a senior health ministry official, said 15 deaths had been reported in Bengkulu and seven in West Sumatra province, the two regions closest to the epicenter. He said another death was reported in Jambi province.

Pakaya said 88 people had been injured, and rescuers were still searching for victims feared trapped under rubble in some remote areas.

The earthquakes destroyed nearly 2,000 houses and damaged 11,500, said Wisnu Wijaya, an official at Indonesia's national disaster management office.

Some villagers who had been camping on high ground away from the ocean have started to return home.

And with electricity back on in most places and no more major aftershocks, some were reopening shops and cleaning up debris around their homes.

However, many residents remain jittery, and are still sleeping out in the open. About 400 refugees still remain at the governor's office in Bengkulu and in the hills of the remote Mentawai islands.

With roads damaged and communications cut, getting accurate casualty figures was a challenge. Authorities raised the death toll after information came in from remote regions, Pakaya said.

Many people said a public awareness campaign launched after the massive 2004 tsunami that killed more than 220,000 people in a dozen Indian Ocean nations had paid off.

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