A powerful earthquake struck off Southern Sumatra in Indonesia at 10:16:09 UTC (17:16:09 local time) on September 30, 2009, destroying hundreds of buildings, killing at least 529 people and seriously injuring 400 more. The earthquake, measuring 7.6Mw, was located around 30 miles (45 kilometers) west-northwest of Padang and 135 miles (220 kilometers) southwest of Pekanbaru, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The USGS added that the quake was centered about 50 miles (80 kilometers) underground. Dozens of aftershocks have been recorded following the main earthquake, including a 6.6Mw tremor that occurred around 15 hours after the original quake and was located around 170 miles (275 km) away. There have been no immediate reports of damage from the 6.6Mw aftershock.
The USGS said more than 12 million people live in areas impacted by a Modified Mercalli Intensity (MMI) of V or higher (see Table 1 below) from the 7.6Mw earthquake. Three towns (Padang, Bukittinggi and Pariaman) experienced intensity VIII on the MMI scale, equivalent to severe shaking with the potential for moderate to heavy damage, according to the USGS. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued a tsunami alert for Indonesia, India, Malaysia and Thailand, but this was canceled around an hour after the earthquake occurred. Sea level gauges at Padang recorded a small tsunami, measuring 12 inches (30 cm) in height.
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Officials said the earthquake destroyed hundreds of buildings, cut communications, started fires and triggered landslides. The government said the official death toll currently stands at 529, but warned thousands of people are feared dead as many are thought to have been buried by collapsed buildings. Indonesia’s National Disaster Agency said at least 500 buildings, including houses, hospitals, schools and shopping malls, have been destroyed in the city of Padang. Again, this number is expected to rise as the earthquake brought down telephone lines, severely disrupting communications in the affected region and making it difficult to assess the scale and extent of the damage. Roads and bridges in the affected areas have also been destroyed.
Officials said Padang, the capital of West Sumatra province with a population of around 840,000 people, was badly affected by the earthquake. They added that more than 370 people have died in the city and the severe shaking has reduced buildings to rubble. According to reports, a major hospital in the city (the state-run Djamil Hospital) has been badly damaged and part of the airport has collapsed. Officials said hotels in the city have also been destroyed and a shopping mall is reported to have collapsed.
Other businesses have also been impacted by the earthquake. Reports said a unit of Indonesia’s largest cement producer, PT Semen Gresik Tbk, was assessing damage to equipment at the Semen Padang factory and operations have been halted due to the lack of power supply. Indonesia’s Rubber Association also warned that around 50,000 tons of rubber due for shipment in October and November was likely to be delayed by up to 2 weeks as roads from plantations in the area to the nearest port were impassable. The organization added that it was too early to assess whether damage to rubber plantations in the area would affect production. Sumatra is also home to some of Indonesia’s largest oil fields as well as a liquefied natural gas terminal, but there have been no reports of damage at these facilities so far.
Elsewhere, officials said the earthquake caused damage in the towns and cities of Bukittinggi, Pariaman, Pasaman, Solok, Medan and Bengkulu. The earthquake also shook buildings as far away as Singapore and Malaysia, but no significant damage was reported here.
Indonesian officials have said the earthquake was one of the biggest to hit the country in recent years, and it was more powerful than the 6.3Mw Yogyakarta quake in 2006 that killed more then 5,000 people. Officials said they are expecting casualties from yesterday’s earthquake to surpass those of three years ago, given the intensity and the spread of the damage.
Sources: USGS, Reuters News, Associated News, Agence France Presse, BBC News, CNN News, Xinhua News Agency
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