by Mathias Hariyadi

A powerful earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale struck a few hours ago. It was felt as far as 2,000 kilometres away from the epicentre. Many buildings have been damaged and power is out. Muslims are particularly affected since tonight it is the start of Ramadan.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The Indonesian government has issued a tsunami alert to all residents living along the coastal region of Bengkulu in West Sumatra, following a huge earthquake that rocked the province with a jolt measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale at about 18.10 pm local time (11.10 am GMT). But it was lifted an hour later. Still tensions remain high and residents are afraid to go home.

This strong quake also hit Padang in North Sumatra Province, the provincial capital of Palembang in South Sumatra Province, and Jakarta—some of 2,000 kilometres from Bengkulu.

The epicentre was only about 15 kilometres (nine miles) under the sea, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) south-west of the city of Bengkulu,

Eyewitnesses told AsiaNews that the quake seemed even stronger than the one that caused the 2004 tsunami which flattened Nias Island in North Sumatra spreading its destructive force across the Indian Ocean.

At present only two deaths were reported in Padang but eyewitnesses said that a number of buildings have suffered major damages, and that power is out.

Residents have fled their homes, finding refugee outdoors, far from damaged buildings.

Despite the lifting of the alert people still refuse to return home. “I’d rather stay outside,” said Berta Iin Esthi, a professor at Bengkulu University.

“This is not really a good time,” a Muslim resident told AsiaNews. “Tonight Ramadan starts,” he said.

In Islam Ramadan is a holy month during which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, and gather to feast once the sun has set.

Source: AsiaNews.it, 12 September 2007

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