AMBON CITY, INDONESIA (AP, AFP) At least 20 people were killed after a 6.5-magnitude quake struck off the remote Maluku islands in eastern Indonesia on Thursday (Sept 26), destroying homes and triggering landslides that buried at least one of the victims.
“The total number of people who died in the earthquake is 20,” said the national disaster mitigation agency's acting spokesman Agus Wibowo said in statement that evening.
“At least 100 people were injured and more than 2,000 evacuated,” he added.
Terrified residents ran into the streets as buildings fell in around them after the quake hit at around 8.45am local time (0045 GMT).
Two people were killed by falling debris, another died after being buried in a landslide while a woman was killed after falling off her motorbike while fleeing to higher ground, according to Indonesia’s national disaster mitigation agency and the local search and rescue office.
People in Ambon, a city of about 400,000 people, were seen helping injured residents in blood-stained clothes, while images showed wrecked homes with collapsed walls and rubble strewn on the ground.
Some patients fled a local hospital as the quake hit, prompting officials to set up makeshift shelters outside the building, an official said.
"The impact was felt across Ambon city and surrounding areas," said Mr Rahmat Triyono, head of the earthquake and tsunami division at Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG). "Many people were woken up by the shaking...it felt like a truck was passing by."
Parts of a building at an Islamic university collapsed in Ambon, the capital of Maluku province.
Local disaster official Albert Simaela told The Associated Press a main hospital in the city was damaged and patients were evacuated to outdoor tents in the hospital’s yard.
The quake struck about 37km north-east of Ambon in Maluku province at 8.46am local time, at a depth of 29km, according to the US Geological Survey. No tsunami warning was issued.
Mr Simaela said many people drove to higher ground by motorbike and car, causing traffic congestion in Ambon.
"The temblor was so strong, causing us poured into the streets," said Mr Musa, an Ambon resident who uses a single name.
He said there were no damages or injuries in his neighbourhood, but he said people on social media chatted about damage elsewhere in the city.
“I was asleep with my family when suddenly the house started to shake,” said an AFP reporter in Ambon.
“The quake was really strong. We ran from our house and saw the neighbours fleeing too. Everybody was panicking.”
Multiple aftershocks have rippled across the area, he added.
Initial reports said the quake struck offshore, but later analysis found it hit onshore, raising the potential for damage, according to Indonesia’s national disaster mitigation agency.
The national disaster mitigation agency said authorities are still gathering information about damage and injuries at several affected areas.
It said the quake had caused cracks in a main bridge in Ambon, and pictures released by the agency showed minor damage at Pattimura University in the city.
Two houses and a local government office were also damaged.
Local disaster agency head Oral Sem Wilar called for calm.
“People were panicking and started to evacuate in some places, but we are trying to tell them there’s no need to panic because there’s no tsunami threat,” he told AFP.
With a population of around 1.7 million, Maluku is one of Indonesia’s least populous provinces.
Indonesia experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tectonic plates collide.
In August, five people died and several were injured after a powerful undersea earthquake rocked Indonesia’s heavily populated Java island.
Last year, a 7.5-magnitude quake and a subsequent tsunami in Palu on Sulawesi island left more than 4,300 people dead or missing.
The force of the impact saw entire neighbourhoods levelled by liquefaction – a process where the ground starts behaving like a liquid and swallows up the earth like quicksand.
Nearly 60,000 people are still living in makeshift accommodation nearly a year after the double disaster, the Red Cross said this week.
On Boxing Day 2004, a devastating 9.1-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra and triggered a tsunami that killed 220,000 throughout the region, including around 170,000 in Indonesia.