A strong earthquake hit Indonesia’s Aceh province early Wednesday, killing close to 100 people and injuring hundreds more as authorities continue with search-and-rescue efforts through the rubble.
The earthquake, measured at a 6.5 magnitude by the US Geological Survey, toppled buildings and collapsed houses in Pidie Jaya, the district closest to the quake epicenter. According to local authorities, four people so far have been pulled from the rubble alive.
“We are now focusing on searching for victims and possible survivors,” Sutopo Nugroho, spokesman from the Indonesian National Disaster Mitigation Agency told Reuters.
As night descends, the volunteers and authorities are working against time. Medical volunteers are racing to send victims to hospitals while rescuers hope to find more survivors among the ruins despite rains and power outages. No tsunami warning was issued, but officials warned residents to sleep outdoors as aftershocks continue to rock the already fragile buildings.
"The search this night depends on the location and the weather conditions," Aiyub Abbas, district chief of Pidie Jaya told the Associated Press. Mr. Abbas said there is an urgent need for excavation equipment to help move debris and emergency supplies.
More than 1,000 rescuers and hundreds of soldiers have been deployed by the Indonesian National Disaster Mitigation Agency, the Agency spokesman said. The Indonesian Red Cross has mobilized aid for the survivors with a focus on providing clean water and sanitation, dispatching hygiene kits, tarpaulins, blankets, jerry cans, and family assistance kits to the area.
According to local reports, medical staff are being stretched to care for the large number of wounded and the many more who may yet still be found. Mr. Nugroho said in a news conference that more than 200 shop houses and dwellings were either severely damaged or flattened, one hospital was damaged and 14 mosques collapsed in the aftermath.
Aceh, located at the northern tip of Sumatra Island, has experienced fatal earthquakes before. More than half the population, about 148 million people, live in Indonesia's quake-prone areas. In 2004, it was heavily hit by a 9.2 magnitude quake that triggered a tsunami, wiped out communities along the Indian Ocean and left more than 120,000 dead in Aceh alone.
While multiple earthquakes have rocked the region after 2004, Aceh has been largely rebuilt since then as a result of generous aid and efficient government-led development, as previously reported by The Christian Science Monitor.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.