Aceh is the same province where hundreds were killed during the Tsunami disaster. Today AFP reported at least 18 people died and dozens were feared trapped in rubble after a strong earthquake struck off Aceh province on Indonesia’s Sumatra island on Wednesday, officials said. “Eighteen have died so far, based on data from the hospital. Some of the fatalities are children,” Said Mulyadi, deputy district chief of Pidie Jaya, the region hit hardest by the quake, told AFP. The shallow 6.5-magnitude quake hit just north of the small town of Reuleuet, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said. There was no tsunami alert. The quake struck at dawn, as some in the predominantly Muslim region prepared for morning prayers, local officials said.
District official Apriadi Achmad said that an elderly man had died, possibly from a heart attack, and there were fears for dozens believed to be trapped inside damaged homes. “Several shophouses and homes have caved in in Pidie Jaya district and the owners are still trapped there,” Achmad, chief of the local disaster management office, told AFP. “We are now deploying heavy machines to help out and hopefully we can save the ones who are trapped,” he said. Seismologists said the earthquake was felt across much of Aceh province, which was devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. At least five aftershocks followed the quake, said Eridawati, local head of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency.
The USGS upgraded the magnitude to 6.5 from an initial reading of 6.4 and issued a yellow alert for expected fatalities and damage. “Some casualties and damage are possible and the impact should be relatively localised,” it said, giving a 44 percent chance of the quake resulting in between one and 10 deaths. In the coastal town of Sigli, people panicked and fled their houses to seek shelter away from the sea. “We are now evacuating to Tijue because we are afraid of a tsunami,” said Nilawati, one of those heading several kilometres inland. Indonesia experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific “Ring of Fire“, where tectonic plates collide.
Aceh lies on the northern tip of Sumatra island which is particularly prone to quakes. In June, a 6.5-magnitude quake struck off the west of Sumatra, damaging scores of buildings and injuring eight people. A huge undersea 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 more in other countries around the Indian Ocean. –