Earthquake death toll reaches 1,232

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The Independent Online
THE DEATH TOLL from an earthquake and subsequent tidal waves that struck the Indonesian island of Flores on Saturday rose to 1,232 yesterday, officials said.

About 1,120 of the deaths occurred in the town of Maumere, where 40 per cent of the buildings were destroyed in the tremor. Many people were swept away and drowned when huge waves triggered by the earthquake inundated coastal areas.

The waves, called tsunami, rose up to 80 feet and in some places swept 350 yards inland, Hendrik Nai, a spokesman for the rescue team, said.

Whole villages in coastal areas were reported to have been wiped out by the tsunami.

Hendrikus Fernandez, the governor of East Nusa Tenggara province, said he saw little sign of any survivors on one small island near Flores, or in a shattered fishing village near Maumere as he flew over the area.

The quake struck with an intensity of 7.5 on the Richter scale, measured by the US Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California. Its epicentre was at sea, 19 miles from Maumere.

Rescuers continued to dig through devastated villages searching for survivors and victims yesterday. The earthquake destroyed government buildings, schools, churches, mosques and shops in Maumere and Larantuka on the eastern part of the island. Most of the buildings on the island were single-storey structures made of wood and brick.

Aftershocks every five minutes hampered rescue work for several hours. Many people remained outside their homes to avoid falling beams and spent Saturday night outside in open areas without tents in a tropical rainstorm.

Mr Fernandez said two ships with emergency supplies had been sent to Flores island from Kupang on the neighbouring island of Timor.

He said that the survivors urgently needed medicines, to fight gastroenteritis and respiratory diseases and tents.

Thousands of foreign tourists visit the predominantly Christian island of Flores every year, drawn by is coral reefs and colourful religious festivals. It was not known if any foreigners were victims.

Indonesia is along the Pacific Ocean's volcanic 'rim of fire' and is hit by many strong temors each year.

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