Five Died in Massive Sumatra Earthquakes

BANDA ACEH

Five people died and at least seven were injured when massive earthquakes struck off Sumatra on Wednesday.

Officials said they believed at least two people died of heart attacks and three others died of shock in the quakes.

“Based on data collected on victims and damage, five people died, one person is critically injured and six others had minor injuries,” National Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

An 8.6-magnitude quake struck 431 kilometres off the city of Banda Aceh late afternoon Wednesday, and was followed by another undersea quake measured at 8.2, with aftershocks continuing through the night.

All of the casualties were in Aceh province, Nugroho said, with the critically injured victim a child who fell from a tree.

Communities in Aceh have now returned to daily life, Nugroho added, in stark contrast to the devastation caused by the massive 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami which killed 170,000 people in the province alone and wiped out entire towns.

Minimal damage was caused this time round because government regulations ensured buildings have better resistance to quakes, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and people were better prepared.

“The buildings in Aceh are now stronger because the government has set certain standards that oblige contractors to ensure anti-earthquake aspects are put in place,” UNDP national project coordinator for Aceh Fahmi Yunus said.

Experts said an Indian Ocean-wide warning system – that alerts people of a potential tsunami, through SMS messages, smartphones and social media – helped spread the word across Indonesian Sumatra and other nations such as Thailand and India, prompting people to seek higher ground.

After the first quake struck, people grabbed their families and poured into the streets in search of safe havens and higher areas, having gone through repeated disaster drills since the 2004 quake and tsunami.

Police tried to manage throngs of residents fleeing coastal areas in cars and on motorbikes, while panicked teachers tried to evacuate children from schools.

Damage was minimal also because the epicentre was much farther offshore than 2004, according to the Meteorology and Geophysics Agency, and did not generate a massive tsunami, which was responsible for most of the damage eight years ago.

Syamsul Maarif, head of the National Disaster Agency (BNPB), said losses from the latest quake were estimated at only Rp2 billion (US$218,000).

Losses from the 2004 disaster were calculated at Rp39 trillion ($4.3 billion).

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