Sumatra: Kiwi aid workers safe following 7.7 quake

Two New Zealand aid workers in the area of a large quake near the Indonesian island of Sumatra are safe and well.

There were scattered reports of injuries, but only minor damage was immediately reported following the 7.7 earthquake which shook the island earlier today.

The United States Geological Survey reported the quake's epicentre
was 205 kilometres west-norwest of Sibolga, Sumatra. It had earlier said the quake measured 7.8.

Surfaid New Zealand chairman Phil Dreifuss said the organisation had around 120 people working in remote areas, close to where the quake struck.

He said two of those were expats from Christchurch who had been working in Padang and Nias.

"I've had contact with them just recently and all is well. In Padang, they hardly felt the earthquake and Nia certainly felt the quake, but there are no reports of any damage."

The Indonesia Meteorology and Geophysics Agency and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Honolulu issued tsunami warnings following the quake, but lifted them two hours later.

The quake occurred at a depth of 46 kilometres, causing at least five strong aftershocks measuring up to 5.2.

Neighbouring Thailand and Malaysia also cancelled tsunami warnings.

Fauzi, a seismologist at the meteorology agency, said the quake would have "at least caused cracks in many buildings and houses, especially in areas closest to the epicentre".

"That's why we are still trying to get data of damage in some remote areas that remain difficult to reach due to lack of communication and blackout," said Fauzi, who goes by only one name.

Paulus Prihandojo, another seismologist with the meteorology agency, said along with the quake's relative depth, the epicenter was too far away from the major population centers of Medan and Banda Aceh to cause major damage.

He said areas closer to the epicenter were more sparsely populated and many of the buildings in that area were made of wood, which fares better in earthquakes than brick and cement.

A hospital on Simeulue island off the coast of Sumatra admitted 17 people for treatment of injuries sustained in the quake, including four in critical condition, said Capt. Ajas Siagian, a deputy police chief for the area.

Abdul Karim, a government spokesman in Simeulue, said dozens of houses collapsed or were damaged in Teupah Selatan village. He said no larger buildings were reported damaged, but electricity had been knocked out on the island.

"We are still collecting reports of damages and injuries ... but the situation has returned to normal and people are going back home," he said.

Residents of Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, told AFP they felt the earth shudder for about a minute, while residents in Sibolga said the shaking lasted more than a minute and utility poles in the area were knocked down.

Electricity was cut in Medan and Banda Aceh.

People in several cities along the southeastern coast of Sumatra as well as Sinabang on Simeulue island and Gunung Sitoli on nearby Nias island poured into the streets and rushed to higher ground after the quake.

"Rumours about a tsunami panicked villagers living near the beach," said Eddy Effendi, a resident on Nias island. "They ran away on motorbikes and cars or by climbing the hills. There was panic and chaos everywhere, but I don't see serious damage or injuries in my village."

Local network Metro TV reported that a dormitory for nurses partially collapsed in Aceh's Singkil district and one woman suffered minor injuries in the rush to get out of the building.

A Reuters photographer on Simeulue island, west of Aceh, told the newswire service that there was panic and electricity was cut after the quake.

The quake was felt as far away as the outskirts of Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur, about 320 miles (515 km) away.

A spokesman for Civil Defence and Emergency Management said GNS Science were aware of the quake but said there was no threat to New Zealand.

The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre told AFP there was no tsunami threat to Australian territories.

GNS duty seismologist Warwick Smith said he had received a call from a
New Zealand woman whose son is living in Indonesia.

"He told her that he could not stand and there was a lot of damage," Mr Smith said.

A 7.6-magnitude quake killed about 1000 people in the port of Padang, western Sumatra, in September last year.

- NZ HERALD STAFF / AP / NEWSTALK ZB

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