Deadly magnitude 6.5 earthquake hits Aceh in Indonesia

An earthquake off Indonesia’s northern Aceh province has killed at least 97 people, say local military officials.

The magnitude 6.5 quake struck just off the north-east coast of Sumatra island, where dozens of buildings have collapsed and many people are feared trapped under rubble.

“So far, 97 people have been killed and the number keeps growing,” Aceh military chief Tatang Sulaiman said in a live TV interview.

Hundreds of people have been injured.

  • Images from earthquake-hit Aceh

In 2004, a huge undersea quake off the coast of Aceh caused a tsunami that killed more than 160,000 people in Indonesia alone.

There was no tsunami after Wednesday’s tremor, which the US Geological Survey said struck just offshore at 05:03 local time (22:03 GMT Tuesday) at a depth of 8km.

A collapsed mosque minaret is seen after a 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck the town of Pidie, Indonesia's Aceh province in northern Sumatra, on December 7, 2016.Image copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGES
Image captionSeveral mosques and other buildings collapsed

A spokesman for Indonesia’s national disaster agency said more than 200 shops and homes had been destroyed, along with 14 mosques. A hospital and school were also badly damaged.

“We estimate the number of casualties will continue to rise as some of the residents are still likely [to be] under the rubble of the buildings. The search and rescue operation is still underway,” said Sutopo Nugroho, who also said thousands of rescuers, including soldiers, had been deployed.

Maj Gen Tatang Sulaiman said four people had been rescued alive from the rubble and he believed there might be four or five more still buried, though he did not say whether they were alive.

“Hopefully we would be able to finish the evacuation from the rubble before sunset,” he said.

Indonesian search and rescue personnel stood next to a pile of rubble from a collapsed building in Aceh province on 7 December 2016.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionRescuers are searching through the debris for people feared trapped

Said Mulyadi, deputy district chief of Pidie Jaya, the region hit hardest by the quake, told the BBC’s Indonesian service earlier in the day that the death toll was likely to rise.

He also told the AFP news agency that several children were among the dead and that local hospitals had been overwhelmed.

City general hospital patients rest in the open following an earthquake in Pidie Jaya, Aceh province on 7 December 2016.Image copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGES
Image captionPatients have been placed on mattresses outside hospitals

Heavy equipment is being used to search for survivors, but Puteh Manaf, head of the local disaster management agency, told the BBC’s Mehulika Sitepu that more people were needed to help because some staff were busy helping their own families.

Rescuers use heavy machine to search for survivors under the rubble in Pidie Jaya, Aceh province, Indonesia, 7 December 2016.Image copyrightAP
Image captionOfficials have appealed for more equipment and manpower to dig through the rubble
Residents gather around a collapsed building after a 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck the town of Pidie, Indonesia's Aceh province in northern Sumatra, on December 7, 2016.Image copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGES
Image captionAuthorities fear the death toll could rise because people are trapped in the rubble

Pidie Jaya is along the north coast of Aceh, and has a population of about 150,000.

It is about 110 km (68 miles) from the provincial capital of Banda Aceh.

Map of Indonesia showing the earthquake's epicentre

The quake shook Banda Aceh and prompted many people across the region to flee their homes. Many are said to be reluctant to go back indoors, amid a number of aftershocks.

Musman Aziz, who lives in Meureudu, another affected town, told AP news agency: “It was very bad, the tremors felt even stronger than (the) 2004 earthquake… I was so scared the tsunami was coming.”

Indonesia is prone to earthquakes because it lies on the Ring of Fire – the line of frequent quakes and volcanic eruptions that circles virtually the entire Pacific rim.

The island of Sumatra has been hit by several earthquakes this year.