Thursday, October 1, 2009

More Natural Disasters as Second Powerful Earthquake Rocks Indonesia

...Thousands of people are trapped under the rubble in Padang, a city of 900,000, a senior Indonesian health ministry official said.

Rustam Pakaya, the head of the health ministry's disaster centre, said via a telephone text message that a hospital in Padang in the area near the epicentre of the quake had also collapsed.

'Jamil hospital collapsed and thousands of people are trapped in the rubble of buildings,' Pakaya said.

A resident called Adi told Indonesia's Metro Television there was devastation around him. 'For now I can't see dead bodies, just collapsed houses. Some half destroyed, others completely. People are standing around too scared to go back inside. They fear a tsunami.

'No help has arrived yet. I can see small children standing around carrying blankets. Some people are looking for relatives but all the lights have gone out completely.'

In Samoa, signs of devastation from the tsunami were everywhere, with a giant boat washed ashore lying on the edge of a highway and flood waters swallowing up cars and homes.

It struck about 120 miles (190 kilometres) from neighbouring American Samoa, a U.S. territory that is home to 65,000 people.The waves reached as far as Japan, although Hawaii and Australia were spared any severe damage.

In Washington, President Barack Obama declared a disaster for American Samoa. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it was deploying teams to provide support and assess damage.

Samoan Prime Minister Sailele Malielegaoi looked shaken today on board a flight from Auckland, New Zealand, to the Samoan capital of Apia.

'So much has gone. So many people are gone,' he told reporters on board. 'I'm so shocked, so saddened by all the loss.'

Malielegaoi said his own village of Lepa was destroyed. President Thomas Lapua, who lives in the Western Samoan capital of Apia, said: 'These are places that exist because people depend on the sea to fish - now the sea is threatening their lives. It may be some time before we find out the full extent of this.'

The quake hit at 6:48 am local time (17:48 GMT) midway between the two island groups. At least one entire village in American Samoa was reported to have been flattened by the tsunami, later reports said, but confirmation of the destruction was difficult because communications were cut to many areas.

A Samoan resident, Mr Keni Lesa was preparing to take his family to higher ground as the tsunami warning went out. 'We've done a lot of training for this, but it still a shock when it actually happens and you hear the warnings going out on the radio.'

'There are a considerable number of people who've been swept out to sea and are unaccounted for,' New Zealand's acting Prime Minister Bill English said.

New earthquake rattles Sumatra, Indonesia again
BBC, CNN, Reuters
Posted by: Sean Ecker on 1 October 2009 at 9:27

A second earthquake in under 24 hours, measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale, shook southern Sumatra in Indonesia Thursday morning 1 October. Sumatrans were still recovering from the earlier, stronger earthquake in the port of Padang which has left at least 400 dead and many people trapped under collapsed buildings. The death toll could climb into the thousands, officials fear.

The earthquakes come days after a strong tremor shook the Pacific islands of Samoa, leaving many villages flattened and over 100 people dead. Experts say that the earthquakes are all on the edge of the Australian tectonic plate where it comes into contact with the Eurasian plate, in the case of the Sumatra earthquakes, and where it bumps up against the Pacific plate in the case of the Samoan earthquake.

Death Toll Mounts as Second Earthquake Strikes Indonesia

Quakes Wreak Destruction in Indonesia, the Samoas
Hundreds of people were killed in a 7.6-magnitude earthquake that originated in the sea off Indonesia's Sumatra island on Wednesday, Sept. 30. The day before, a tsunami hit islands in the South Pacific after a morning quake, leaving more than 150 people dead or missing.

By Andrew Higgins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 1, 2009; 9:19 AM

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Oct. 1 -- A major earthquake that killed hundreds and possibly thousands of people on the Indonesian island of Sumatra follows an unusual period of seismic turmoil that scientists say likely heralds a catastrophic quake on a scale not seen in the area for more than 150 years.

A 7.6 magnitude quake Wednesday leveled hundreds of buildings, including hospitals, in Padang, a boisterous port city of 900,000 people on the west coast of Sumatra. It also shook buildings in Singapore and Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur. A second, less severe quake hit another part of Sumatra Thursday.

Officials put the death toll in Padang at more than 500 but noted that the figure will likely rise. They said many residents remain trapped in the rubble.

Kerry Sieh, an American seismologist at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, said Sumatra's current seismic spasms began in 2000 and have since produced about 30 quakes. Far worse is yet to come, he said, though not immediately.

"If you have a time-lapse picture of the Challenger space shuttle disaster, the first thing you see is a little flame, a tear, and then the whole thing blows apart," said Sieh, an authority on the area's geology and director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore. "This is what is happening in Sumatra but in slow motion. The biggest explosion is yet to happen."

As rescue workers scrambled Thursday to dig survivors out of wrecked buildings in Padang, power cuts and heavy rain hampered their efforts. Severed phone lines made communication with Padang difficult. Indonesia's health minister said thousands may have been killed but cautioned that information is still scant.

The Sumatra quakes do not appear to be directly connected to an earthquake roughly 6,000 miles away that triggered a tsunami Wednesday on the Pacific islands of Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga, scientists said. But Sumatra and the Pacific islands all lie within the so-called "Ring of Fire," an arc of seismic turbulence noted for volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Along a fault line that stretches from Burma to Australia, two tectonic plates meet and grind against each other. A rupture along this line caused the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, in which around 230,000 people perished, many of them in the northern Sumatra region of Aceh.

Earthquakes in and around Sumatra are "becoming more frequent and of higher intensity," said Haryadi Permana, a geologist at the Indonesia Science and Technology Agency. A massive quake will likely occur in coming decades, he said, but "it is impossible to predict when." He said scientists have long warned that Padang and other towns were under threat, but "the government never cared about that."

Some buildings in the city were reinforced before this week's disaster, but many still crumpled. Fearing more tremors, residents left their homes and prepared to sleep outside. Some hospitals have moved patients onto streets. Outside Padang's partially collapsed Jamil Hospital, at least 40 corpses were lying on the ground, Reuters news agency reported.

Before flying to Padang Thursday from Jakarta, Indonesia's health minister, Siti Fadilah Supari, said that thousands had probably died, but she added, "We don't really know yet."

Sumatra is the center of Indonesia's oil and gas industry and home to endangered animals such as the Sumatran tiger and wild orangutan. Their habitat has been steadily reduced by illegal logging and the growth of Indonesia's powerful pulp and paper combines. Building regulations are often ignored, and Indonesia's relatively vibrant economy has left Padang and other towns on Sumatra scattered with flimsy, hastily built structures.

Sieh, the American expert in Singapore, said Wednesday's Padang quake occurred along the Mentawai patch, a 435-mile section of what is known as the Sunda megathrust, a 3,400-mile fault line that cuts across Southeast Asia. The megathrust runs south from Bangladesh, curves around the western and southern flanks of Sumatra, Java, Bali and eastern Indonesia and stretches to northwestern Australia.

Over the centuries, he said, this section has had long periods of calm followed by several decades of intense and dangerous activity. By using coral to measure changes in sealevel and other factors, he and fellow scientists have identified three distinct periods of activity, each roughly 200 years apart, since the early 14th century.

Sumatra's current seismic turmoil, he said, marks the fourth such episode and, like previous ones, will likely end with a massive quake. The last one was in 1833.

"There is no place in the world that has more wake-up calls than Padang," Sieh said. But getting governments to focus on catastrophes out of immediate view is difficult. "When it comes to things that only happen every few hundreds years . . . we are not geared to think about it."

Washington, Sieh said, has far more experts who worry about political conflict in Kashmir than "about a fault line [in Kashmir] that could kill all of them."

"There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven." (Luke 21: 11)

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