Nias quake kills hundreds

Wednesday, March 30, 2005
By nias

Wednesday, March 30, 2005 The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Hundreds of islanders in North Sumatra and Aceh who escaped the terrible waves of three months ago were killed early Tuesday in a strong earthquake.

Residents started to search through smoldering rubble for survivors on Nias island on Tuesday and relatives wept over the bodies of the dead after a huge undersea earthquake struck the region, triggering tsunami warnings and causing massive panic around the Indian Ocean rim.

Estimates of the number dead ranged from 330 to 2,000, apart from some 100 in Simeulue island in the province of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam.

The epicenter of Monday's quake, which measured 8.7 on the Richter scale, was just 320 kilometers away from that of the Dec. 26 quake, which sent giant waves crashing into 12 nations, killing over 273,000 people, mostly in Aceh. Nias was also affected by the tsunami but only some 130 were reported dead.

Unlike residents on Sumatra's mainland, locals on Nias and Simeulue said they had escaped to higher ground following the earthquake after seeing the ocean recede, which they knew meant a tsunami was on the way. They cited their elders' stories of similar disasters, which, among other things, had led to the stranding of whales.

Budi Atmaji Adiputro, a spokesman for the Coordinating Agency for National Disaster Relief, said rescuers found 330 bodies in the rubble on Tuesday. The toll was expected to rise as more bodies were believed to be trapped in collapsed buildings, he said.

From the air, it appeared that about 30 percent of the buildings in Gunung Sitoli, the island's biggest city, were destroyed, and there was significant damage to the island's second biggest town, Teluk Dalam, Associated Press reported.

But Antara said that some 80 percent of the buildings in Gunung Sitoli had been destroyed. It added that many bridges were down, while telecommunications and electricity were still out. Most people in Gunung Sitoli had fled to the hills amid fears of a tsunami.

The head of the health office in Aceh province, Mulya Hasjmy, told Agence France Presse that a disaster task force on Simeulue island had counted 100 dead.

But Vice President Yusuf Kalla told the British Broadcasting Corporation that reports from Nias indicated that between 1,000 and 2,000 people had died. Nias island, which is popular with surfers, has a population of some 700,000 people.

The undersea quake struck about 200 kilometers off the west coast of Sumatra and prompted Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Thailand, among other nations, to issue imminent tsunami warnings.

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