MEUREUDU, INDONESIA: At least 25 people died and hundreds were wounded after a severe earthquake struck Aceh province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra on Wednesday, local officials said.
The 6.5-degree earthquake struck the Pidie Jaya district at dawn, as some in the predominantly Muslim region prepared for the morning prayers.
Mosques and shops were flattened in the small town of Meureudu, where the earthquake force sent people flee their homes. No tsunami warning was issued.
The head of the local disaster agency, Puteh Manaf, said the only hospital in the district had been overwhelmed by the number of injured.
“The data we have today is that 25 people were killed and hundreds were injured,” he told AFP.
Local District Secretary Iskandar Ali also confirmed the figure, citing preliminary data that showed at least 25 died in the earthquake.
Rescue operations were under way to find those trapped under the rubble, with heavy machinery used to move the debris.
One witness said that local residents were wandering the streets, unable to return to their damaged homes and fearing replicas.
Images of the scene show leveled houses, spiers of overturned mosques and cars crushed under the rubble.
The Meureudu resident, Hasbi Jaya, 37, said his family was asleep when the powerful earthquake struck.
“We immediately ran outside the house but it collapsed, everything from the roof to the ground collapsed, and was destroyed,” he told AFP.
“I looked around and all the houses of my neighbors were also completely destroyed.”
The local hospital is struggling to cope, with the injured being treated on the ground in front of the building.
Patients were also sent to a nearby district with more facilities, said Deputy District Chief Said Mulyadi.
He said at least seven children were among the dead, and many more had suffered fractures and other injuries.
“There are a lot of shophouses ceded, and many (people) are alive but trapped,” he told AFP.
Seismologists said the earthquake was felt in much of the province of Aceh, which was devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
At least five aftershocks followed the earthquake, said Eridawati, local head of the Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysical Agency.
The US Geological Survey improved the magnitude to 6.5 from an initial reading of 6.4 and issued a yellow alert for deaths and expected damage.
Indonesia is experiencing frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific Ring of Fire, where tectonic plates collide.
Aceh is located on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra, which is particularly vulnerable to earthquakes.
In June, a magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck west Sumatra, damaging dozens of buildings and injuring eight people.
A huge underwater earthquake in the Indian Ocean in 2004 triggered a tsunami that engulfed parts of Aceh.
The tsunami killed more than 170,000 people in Indonesia and tens of thousands in other countries around the Indian Ocean.