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Powerful earthquake hits Indonesian island

3 min

At least two people were killed on Indonesia's Yapen island on Wednesday when a 7.1-magnitude earthquake off the island's southeast coast struck, destroying homes and triggering a tsunami warning.


AFP - A powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake killed at least two people and damaged scores of homes in eastern Indonesia on Wednesday, triggering a tsunami warning and widespread panic.

The victims were believed to have been crushed under their collapsed homes on Yapen island, close to the epicentre off the northern coast of Papua province, police said.

"Two people were killed on the island because of the quake. We're still collecting information about the damage," Yapen police chief Deny Siregar told AFP.

The quake struck off the southeast coast of Yapen at 12:16 pm (0316 GMT), officials said. It was the second of a series of strong tremors that were felt across a vast but sparsely populated region.

Yapen island, with a population of about 70,000 people, appeared to be the worst-hit area with one church destroyed and at least 150 homes damaged, police said.

"The situation now is still tense. We have moved people to higher ground in anticipation of a tsunami," Siregar told AFP by phone from Serui town on Yapen.

Indonesia's Geophysics and Meteorological Agency issued a localised tsunami warning but it was lifted an hour later.

Thousands of people fled their homes and workplaces on nearby Biak island and in the West Papua provincial capital of Manokwari about 300 kilometres (180 miles) to the west.

"I was driving my car to the office... I felt a huge tremor for about one or two minutes. The car was being flung around," Biak resident Osibyo Wakum said.

He said people rushed out of homes and buildings as the quake rocked the reef-fringed tropical island around lunchtime.

In Manokwari, people fled to open spaces as buildings swayed and the earth shook.

"There was a swaying movement for about 40 seconds. People ran out of their homes, shouting 'get out, get out, the earth is shaking'," said an AFP correspondent in the town.

Many people remained outside as a series of powerful aftershocks shook the region, some as strong as 6.6 in magnitude.

The vast Indonesian archipelago stretches from the Pacific to the Indian oceans and straddles major seismic faultlines that trigger thousands of quakes a year.

The 2004 Asian tsunami killed at least 168,000 people in Indonesia alone when the sea surged over the northern tip of Sumatra island after a 9.3-magnitude quake split the seabed to the west.

A 7.6-magnitude quake killed about 1,000 people in the port of Padang, western Sumatra, in September last year.

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit northern Sumatra in April but caused no significant damage.

Scientists cannot predict when the next major earthquake will hit Indonesia but they say it is only a matter of time before another catastrophe on the same or even greater scale as 2004 strikes the archipelago again.

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