JAKARTA A powerful earthquake, which struck near the city of Padang on Indonesia's Sumatra island on Wednesday, has killed between 100 and 200 people, but thousands remain buried in rubble, officials said on Thursday morning.
Priyadi Kardono, spokesman for the national disaster agency, gave the death toll of 100-200 in the city of 900,000. About 500 houses had caved in, according to officials in the area.
By Thursday morning there were still "thousands of people trapped in the rubble of buildings," said Rustam Pakaya, the head of the health ministry's disaster center in Jakarta.
The 7.6 magnitude quake hit Padang, West Sumatra, on Wednesday afternoon. With communications to the area cut, officials have struggled to get details of casualties and damage.
The death toll was likely to rise as many buildings had collapsed, Vice President Jusuf Kalla told a late night news conference in Jakarta.
"The big buildings are down. The concrete buildings are all down, the hospitals, the main markets, down and burned. A lot of people died in there. A lot of places are burning," Australian businesswoman Jane Liddon told Australian radio from Padang.
"Most of the damage is in the town center in the big buildings. The little houses, the people's houses, there are a few damaged, but nothing dramatic. It's not all a rubble heap in terms of smaller buildings."
Australia's international Aid Minister Bob McMullan said he feared the death toll would be "large" and offered emergency assistance if it was required.
"We are, of course, ready to assist. They are very close friends and neighbors. They know that we are here and available to help. They just have to ask," he said.
TV footage showed piles of debris and smashed houses after the earthquake, which caused widespread panic. The main hospital had collapsed, roads were cut off by landslides and Metro Television said the roof of Padang airport had caved in.
The disaster is the latest in a spate of natural and man-made calamities to hit Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago of 226 million people.
Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie said on Wednesday that damage could be on a par with that caused by a 2006 quake in the central Java city of Yogyakarta that killed 5,000 people and damaged 150,000 homes.
"Hundreds of houses have been damaged along the road. There are some fires, bridges are cut and there is extreme panic here," said a Reuters witness in the city. Broken water pipes, he said, had triggered flooding.
His mobile phone was then cut off and officials said power had been severed in the city.
The quake was felt around the region, with some high-rise buildings in Singapore, 440 km (275 miles) to the northeast, evacuating staff. Office buildings also shook in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.
Sumatra is home to some of the country's largest oil fields as well as its oldest liquefied natural gas terminal, although there were no immediate reports of damage. Padang, capital of Indonesia's West Sumatra province, sits on one of the world's most active fault lines along the "Ring of Fire" where the Indo-Australia plate grinds against the Eurasia plate to create regular tremors and sometimes quakes.
Geologists have long warned that Padang may one day be destroyed by a huge earthquake because of its location.
A 9.15 magnitude quake, with its epicenter roughly 600 km (373 miles) northwest of Padang, caused the 2004 tsunami which killed 232,000 people in Indonesia's Aceh province, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, and other countries across the Indian Ocean.
The depth of Wednesday's earthquake was 85 km (53 miles), the United States Geological Survey said. It revised down the magnitude of the quake from 7.9 to 7.6.
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(Additional reporting by John Nedy in Padang and Sunanda Creagh in Jakarta and by Rob Taylor in Canberra; Writing by Sara Webb);