Jakarta appeals for aid as earthquake toll rises

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The Independent Online

At least 130 people died, 500 were injured and thousands left homeless by a powerful earthquake that jolted the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

At least 130 people died, 500 were injured and thousands left homeless by a powerful earthquake that jolted the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

The earthquake, measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, was centred in the Indian Ocean west of of the island on Sunday and lasted several minutes, followed by 53 smaller tremors causing widespread panic.

The quake, among the strongest recorded in quake-prone Indonesia in recent years, was felt in the capital, Jakarta, and 600km to the north in Singapore.

Worst hit was the city of Bengkulu, with a population of 250,000, on the west coast. Almost half the buildings were damaged and rescuers are digging through the rubble for bodies and trapped survivors. They expect the death toll to rise. "It happened at about 11.30 at night," said Hilda Kamidan who owns a small guest house in the city. "All the people came out of their houses. Many homes have been damaged, as well as one of the banks and a government office.

"I was scared. The house was like a motorboat in a sea with very big waves. We could not walk. It was very, very bad."

Reports from the area say hospitals are full to capacity and a lack of medical staff has meant they are struggling to cope. Conditions in hundreds of nearby villages have not yet been assessed.

Initial relief efforts were hampered by the loss of electricity and telephone lines, though residents say electricity has now been restored. Thousands who fled their homes fearing more aftershocks have not yet returned.

Sugeng Triutomo from the Indonesian National Disaster Agency in Jakarta said: "People are sleeping in the fields because many buildings have been damaged, but we don't know the exact situation as communications have also been damaged."

The agency is planning to send a four-man medical team to the area today to report on conditions. Damage to roads and runways at the local airport means aid must be brought in by helicopter.

The agency has not yet assessed the full cost of the damage but is hoping the Japanese government will be able to help with immediate medical aid. A military spokesman told national television that themilitary was co-ordinating emergency relief by providing shelter and distributing rice.

Residents fear contaminated water may bring dysentery and typhoid. The city is in a coffee, palm oil and rubber plantation region. Bengkulu province has a total population of 1.2 million.

The Indonesian archipelago sits on major fault lines and is prone to frequent seismic upheavals.

A month ago, a 6.5-rated earthquake in central Indonesia ago killed at least 16 people and caused a tsunami or giant wave. In December 1992, a magnitude 6.8 earthquake caused a tsunami that killed at least 2,200 people in eastern Indonesia - 1,490 in Maumere on the island of Flores, which took the brunt of the quake, and a further 700 in Babi island.