Quake off Indonesia kills one, destroys homes

By Niniek Karmini, AP

JAKARTA — A powerful earthquake struck waters off western Indonesia, leaving at least one person dead, damaging 150 houses and triggering tsunami warnings that sent thousands of residents fleeing to high ground in panic, officials said Tuesday.

The 7.7-magnitude quake struck 13 miles (20 kilometers) beneath the ocean floor at 9:42 p.m. (10:42 a.m. EDT, 1442 GMT) Monday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, jolting the Mentawai islands and towns along the western coast of Sumatra island, 175 miles (280 kilometers) to the south.

Mosques blared tsunami warnings over their loudspeakers.

“Everyone was running out of their houses,” said Sofyan Alawi, a resident in the city of Padang, adding that the roads leading to surrounding hills were quickly jammed with thousands of cars and motorcycles.

“We kept looking back to see if a wave was coming,” said 28-year-old resident Ade Syahputra.

A group of Australians said the temblor created a wall of water that sent a boat crashing into theirs in a bay off the Mentawai islands. Rick Hallet told Australia’s Nine Network that his boat exploded and caught fire.

“I ordered everyone up to the top deck,” Hallet said. “We threw whatever we could that floated – surfboards, fenders – then we jumped into the water.”

One farmer was killed on Pagai, located within the sparsely populated Mentawai island chain, and with more than 150 homes damaged, at least 2,000 people were seeking shelter in makeshift camps, said Ade Edward, a disaster management agency official.

Crews from several ships were still unaccounted for in the Indian Ocean, he said.

Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity due to its location on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire.

The city of Padang was badly shaken one year ago by a 7.6-magnitude quake that killed at least 700 people and flattened or severely damaged 180,000 buildings.

That followed the 2004 tsunami off Sumatra’s westernmost province of Aceh that was triggered by a 9.1-magnitude quake and killed 230,000 in a dozen countries, roughly half in Indonesia.