PANGALENGAN, Indonesia (Reuters) - The death toll from a powerful earthquake in Indonesia, which killed at least 42 people and forced thousands to flee buildings, is likely to rise, government agencies said early on Thursday morning.
The 7.0 magnitude quake shook buildings in the capital Jakarta on Wednesday afternoon and flattened homes in villages closer to the epicenter in West Java.
Reuters reporters at the scene early on Thursday morning saw many damaged houses, as well as makeshift tents and shelters on the streets and in fields.
“They have taken refuge not only because their houses were ruined, but also because they fear there will be aftershocks,” said local official Obar Sobarna. There were about 5,000 people taking refuge in the area, he added.
At least 42 people were killed and more than 300 people injured, the government said. Officials said about 1,300 houses were damaged although local media put the number at 3,500.
Another 42 people were missing, presumed dead, after the quake triggered a landslide in the district of Cianjur, about 60 miles south of Jakarta, said Priyadi Kardono, spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.
Kardono told Reuters the death toll could be much higher as scores of houses and offices had collapsed or suffered severe damage. Some areas near the epicenter could not be contacted for several hours, and communications were slow to recover.
“Communications with the coastal areas were completely cut, so we don’t know the conditions there,” Kardono said.
“No reports have come from those areas, although we assume those were the most affected ones. It’s possible the death toll could grow higher.”
The health ministry said it was sending medical teams to the affected areas in West Java. State news agency Antara reported that villagers were clearing rubble from collapsed buildings to try to find survivors and bodies.
Indonesia’s 17,000 islands are scattered along a belt of volcanic and seismic activity known as the Pacific “ring of fire,” one of the most quake-prone places on earth.
More than 170,000 Indonesians were killed or listed missing after a 9.15 magnitude earthquake off Indonesia’s Aceh province on Sumatra triggered a tsunami in December 2004. A total of 230,000 people died in affected Indian Ocean countries.
Indonesia’s seismology agency put the magnitude of Wednesday’s quake at 7.3 with the epicenter 142 km (88 miles) southwest of Tasikmalaya, in West Java.
“Many houses are flattened to the ground,” said Edi Sapuan in Margamukti village, not far from Tasikmalaya. “Only the wooden houses remain standing. Many villagers are injured, covered in blood.”
“We ran as soon as the quake hit. Then five minutes later my house collapsed,” Edi told Reuters.
The quake was felt as far away as Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, about 500 km (300 miles) northeast of Tasikmalaya, and on the resort island of Bali, about 700 km (420 miles) to the east.
Indonesia’s main power, oil and gas, steel, and mining companies with operations in West and Central Java island closest to the quake’s epicenter said they had not been affected and suffered no damage.
At least 38 people were injured in Jakarta, a health ministry official said. Buildings shook and thousands of people streamed onto the streets from office and apartment blocks, residents in Jakarta said.
“The chandelier started moving and it started shaking really strong,” said Jakarta resident Victor Chan, who lives in a 34th floor apartment. “It lasted quite long. I was really scared and rushed downstairs.”
“Everything was shaking and my neighbor shouted ‘quake, quake’,” said Nur Syara, from the 31st floor of the same building. “You could hear the walls creaking. I lay down on the floor. I was scared things would collapse.”
(For a graphic: here)
Reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu, Telly Nathalia, Fitri Wulandari, Muklis Ali, Tyagita Silka, Andreas Ismar, Karima Anjani, and Retno Palupi in Jakarta; Writing by Paul Tait and Sara Webb; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Robin Pomeroy