Sumatra 'has a lucky escape' from tsunami after earthquake kills 10

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The Independent Online

Indonesia's Sumatra island was hit by a series of aftershocks on Thursday after a powerful earthquake toppled hundreds of buildings, killing at least 10 people and burying many others.

Authorities said the situation was not as bad as first feared, while a seismologist added that the region was lucky to have escaped a tsunami similar to the one triggered by the massive quake in 2004 that killed more than 280,000 people.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said: "We still have to do a thorough assessment".

Wednesday's initial 8.4 magnitude quake – on the eve of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan was felt in neighbouring Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

The quake and a further 22 tremors, ranging in intensity from 4.9 to 7.8, repeatedly set off tsunami warnings in Indian Ocean countries. However, there were no reports of major ocean surges hitting coastlines in southeast Asia. "There was a tsunami created by the earthquake," said Mike Turnbull at Central Queensland University. "It just travelled in a southwest direction away from land."

Muhammad Syamlan, vice-governor of Bengkulu province, whose capital Bengkulu was close to the epicentre of the quake, said: "We are grateful for the fact that the situation wasn't as bad as we initially thought it would be."

A Reuters photographer in Bengkulu's provincial capital said the situation appeared calm, with shops re-opening and people milling around. The province, one of Indonesia's key coffee-growing regions, has a population of 1.57 million.

The roads in north Bengkulu were lined with tents as residents, fearing more quakes, did not want to return to their damaged homes.

Rustam Pakaya, head of the Indonesian health ministry's crisis centre in Jakarta, said 10 people had been killed and 51 injured across the region. He said: "The North Bengkulu area has been identified as the worst hit with half the area destroyed."

In Bengkulu, nearly 800 houses collapsed and many more were damaged, but the full extent of the quake was still unknown because of the difficulty of reaching or contacting some areas.

The mayor of Padang, the capital of West Sumatra, said many people were trapped under collapsed buildings.