Indonesian Earthquake Kills 300, Generates No Tsunami

JAKARTA, Indonesia, March 29, 2005 (ENS) - At least 300 people have died and more than 300 others were injured in the undersea earthquake that struck the northwest coast of Indonesia's Sumatra island Monday night. It was originally measured at a magnitude of 8.5, but earthquake scientists now say the quake was a more severe 8.7. It occured at a depth of 30 kilometers (18 miles) under the seafloor.

The region continues to be rocked by earthquakes, including two more measured at greater than 6.0 magnitude. More than 30 aftershocks have been recorded in the region ranging from 4.7 to 5.8 in magnitude.

People across Sumatra fled their homes to higher ground last night in fear of another tsunami like the one in December 2004 that devastated the region, claiming about 300,000 lives, but no tsunami waves have followed this latest series of earthquakes.

Indonesian authorities are still counting the casualties. They say Nias Island with a population of 444,000, Simeulue Island with its 77,000 people and the Banyak islands, inhabited by about 5,000 people - all situated off the southwest coast of Sumatra - are the worst affected areas. Thousands of people on the islands were displaced by the December tsunami and are living in relief camps.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Tuesday the government will precisely count the number of people killed and injured. "We will count them head by head," he told a news conference at the presidential palace.


Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (Photo courtesy Government of Indonesia)
The president said he would visit the islands to inspect the extent of damage caused by the quake, which he called a rude shock right after the country was starting to recover. Government officials told the state news agency Antara that the president would postpone his scheduled state visits to Australia, New Zealand and East Timor to visit the earthquake survivors.

National Defence Forces Chief General Endriartono Sutarto said he has sent four helicopters and two warships to Nias.

Sutarto said Singapore has offered three Chinook helicopters and Australia has offered a hospital warship currently anchored in Singapore to assist the victims.

The government has sent a team from Jakarta to assess the situation and no request for international assistance will be made until that mission brings in its report. Government sources say 60 percent of buildings in the town of Gunungsitoli on Nias Island have been damaged or destroyed, it is feared the death toll may be much higher.

The United Nations agencies have conducted an assessment and say that medical evacuations of the most serious cases are being taken to Medan, Meulaboh and Sibolga. The World Health Organization is sending doctors from Meulaboh to Nias to deal with trauma cases.

There is a need for emergency food rations, water and shelter, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

Following the reports of the assessment missions, immediate action was taken by the various agencies through the OCHA office in Banda Aceh.

OCHA Medan has dispatched 500 tents at the request of the inter-agency advance assessment team. The tents were to arrive on a Singapore Chinook helicopter today. UNICEF is sending two water treatment plants to Nias.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) is confident at this point that it has enough relief stocks, vehicles and staff available in the region to deal with this new need. The Federation is not asking for additional funds for this relief operation.

A doctor from the Spanish Red Cross is assisting those injured on the ground, assisted by volunteers from Palang Merah Indonesia - the Indonesian Red Cross.


Buildings on the island of Nias were reduced to rubble in Monday's earthquake. (Photo courtesy Embassy of Indonesia)
Two teams will go to Nias and Simeulue tomorrow, the IFRC said. They will include medical teams from the Japanese Red Cross and the Indonesian Red Cross and specialists in reporting, relief co-ordination, water and sanitation and healthcare from the French Red Cross and Spanish Red Cross.

The IFRC is currently supporting the Indonesian Red Cross distribution of food and relief items to some 11,500 survivors of the December tsunami on the island of Simeulue.

An assessment team of CARE staff joined representatives from other organizations and the United Nations in a helicopter trip to Simeulue today.

In a brief phone call on a poor connection, Bob Allen, CARE's emergency manager in Simeulue, reported that thousands of homes have been damaged. "Allen described the situation as horrific before communication was cut," CARE said. Preliminary reports indicate that up to 30 people have been killed on Simeulue and up to 150 are injured.

“CARE already had 20 staff on Simeulue Island before yesterday’s quake, who are on standby to respond as needed in the areas of food and non-food distribution, health, water and sanitation for up to 16,000 people,” says Aly-Khan Rajani, a CARE program officer based in Aceh. “Initial assessments report structural damage with twisted roads and bridges but not nearly as devastating as the December 26 quake.”

OCHA says a rapid aerial assessment of Banyak and Singkil islands, which were nearest to the epicentre of the 8.7 earthquake, showed that "life appeared to be normal with little to no destruction and no visible humanitarian needs." No helicopter landing site exists on the island.

OCHA said meetings were held with donors including the UK Department for International Development, Japan, France, Germany, and USAID. It was agreed that another meeting would be convened as soon as further information becomes available.

Chairman of the Indonesian Legislature, the People's Consultative Assembly, said in Jakarta today that the government should set up a special body to handle earthquake situations.

"The tremor in Nias Island is the latest proof that Indonesia is situated in an earthquake prone region," Hidayat Nurwahid said after attending a State Palace ceremony marking the installation of new Indonesian ambassadors to Italy and Nigeria, according to Antara.

Nurwahid said the special body to handle earthquake situations should be permanent. He said the existing National Coordinating Body for Refugees and Disasters (Bakornas), is ad hoc in nature, but should also be given permanent status if necessary.