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Powerful quake kills one, forces thousands to flee

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-11-17

A severe 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck off the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, killing one person and destroying homes as thousands evacuated coastal areas. The country's meteorological agency lifted an earlier tsunami warning.

A strong 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck off Indonesia's Sulawesi island early Monday, killing one person, toppling homes as people slept and forcing thousands to flee houses and hotels.
   
The quake triggered a tsunami warning from US officials for an area within 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) of the epicentre but a similar alert by Indonesia was withdrawn shortly after being issued.
   
Rustam Pakaya, head of health ministry's crisis centre, said a 56-year old man was killed in the village of Kwandang and 23 people injured.
   
He added that houses and buildings had collapsed in Gorontalo province.
   
The US Geological Survey (USGS), which initially estimated the quake had a magnitude of 7.8 before downgrading it to 7.5, said it struck 136 kilometres off the coastal town of Gorontalo at a depth of 21 kilometres.
   
The Indonesian state-run Antara news agency said thousands of people fled their homes and hotel rooms in Gorontalo -- which has a population of several hundred thousand -- when the quake struck about 1:02 am (1702 GMT Sunday).
   
The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center warned that the quake had the potential to spawn a destructive regional tsunami and advised authorities in the region to "take immediate action to evacuate coastal areas."
   
The USGS also reported two powerful aftershocks.
   
An official earlier told AFP that people of Tolitoli, some 250 kilometres away, had also reported collapsed buildings.
   
"In an earthquake like this I think it's likely there will be victims," Indonesian geological official Sutiono said.
   
Indonesia was the country worst hit by the earthquake-triggered tsunami in December 2004 that killed more than 200,000 people in 11 nations across Asia, including over 168,000 people in Indonesia's Aceh province alone.
   
The Indonesian archipelago straddles several continental plates in an area known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, where seismic and volcanic activity is recorded on an almost daily basis.
   
Monday's quake comes less than a week after Indonesia launched a high-tech tsunami warning system in a bid to prevent a repeat of tragedies like that in  2004.
   
The 1.4 trillion rupiah (130.2 million dollar) system is able to detect an earthquake at sea and predict within five minutes whether it could cause a tsunami.
   
The system, built with German technology and funding from a number of foreign nations, will eventually include 23 or 24 buoys linked by cables to detectors on the ocean floor.
   
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said at the launch Tuesday that Indonesia was "living on the edge."
   
"Three tectonic plates -- the Eurasian, Indo-Australian and Pacific -- meet here," Yudhoyono said.
   
"This kind of disaster can strike at any time."

Date created : 2008-11-16

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