JAKARTA • A powerful earthquake killed at least 42 people and injured hundreds on Indonesia's island of Sulawesi yesterday, trapping several under rubble and unleashing dozens of aftershocks as the authorities warned of more quakes that could trigger a tsunami.
Thousands of frightened residents fled their homes for higher ground when the 6.2-magnitude quake struck 6km north-east of the town of Majene and 36km south of Mamuju city, at a depth of just 10km, shortly before 1.30am.
The quake and aftershocks damaged more than 300 homes and two hotels, as well as flattening a hospital and the office of a regional governor where, the authorities told Reuters, several people have been trapped under the rubble.
"The hospital is flattened - it collapsed," said Mr Arianto of the rescue agency from Mamuju, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
"There are patients and hospital employees trapped under the rubble, and we Are now trying to reach them," he added, without giving a specific figure.
A Mamuju resident said damage across the city was severe.
"Roads are cracked and many buildings have collapsed," said 28-year-old Mr Hendra, who also goes by one name. "The quake was very strong... I woke up and ran away with my wife."
As many as 42 people have been killed - mostly in Mamuju and the rest in the neighbouring district of Majene, the country's national disaster mitigation agency said in a situation report yesterday evening. More than 820 people have been injured, it said.
A video released by the agency shows a girl identified only as Angel trapped in the ruins of her family's home. Only her face is visible through a gap in the rubble. At least three others were trapped in the house with her, officials said.
In the video, she tells rescuers that she can hear the voice of another girl who is trapped nearby and cannot move. A rescuer asks, "Is she still breathing?", and Angel replies: "Still. But it is difficult."
The heightened seismic activity set off three landslides, severed electricity supplies and damaged bridges linking to regional hubs such as the city of Makassar.
No tsunami warning was issued, but the head of Indonesia's meteorology and geophysics agency, Ms Dwikorita Karnawati, told a news conference that aftershocks could follow, with a possibility that another powerful quake could trigger a tsunami.
"The aftershocks could be as strong, or stronger than this morning's quake," she said. "There is potential for a tsunami from subsequent aftershocks... Don't wait for a tsunami first because they can happen very quickly."
There had been at least 26 aftershocks, she said, with yesterday's quake preceded by a quake of 5.9 magnitude the previous day.
But the warning threatened to spark more fear in the quake-jolted city. "(Everyone) is panicking because the authorities are saying there will be aftershocks that could cause a tsunami," Mamuju resident Zulkifli Pagessa told Agence France-Presse.
President Joko Widodo offered condolences to the victims in a video statement, urging people to stay calm and the authorities to step up search efforts.
Key tasks for officials are restoring telecommunications and bridge links, and ensuring delivery of tents, food and medical supplies, said West Sulawesi provincial government spokesman Safaruddin.
About 15,000 people have fled their homes since the quake, the disaster agency has said, with the coronavirus pandemic likely to complicate aid distribution.
"It is certainly one of the most challenging. This (disaster) was one of our fears, and now we are putting all of that planning and protocols into place," said Mr Jan Gelfand, head of the International Federation of Red Cross in Indonesia.
Straddling the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia is regularly hit by earthquakes.
In 2018, a devastating 6.2-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami struck the city of Palu in Sulawesi, killing thousands.
A 9.1-magnitude quake off the north of Sumatra island triggered a tsunami on Boxing Day in 2004 that lashed coastal areas of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and nine other nations, killing more than 230,000 people.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES