Earthquakes hit Indonesia, 17 dead
A succession of powerful earthquakes rocked eastern Indonesia, killing at
least 17 people, injuring more than 100 others and destroying hundreds of homes.
The quake, which was felt in the nearby country of East Timor, struck Alor island, 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) east of the resort isle of Bali, and left hospitals struggling to cope with the wounded.
Local meteorologists put the magnitude of the quake, which struck at 4:26 am Jakarta time (2126 GMT Thursday) at 6.0 on the Richter scale, while the Observatory of Earth Sciences in Strasbourg recorded the tremor at 7.3.
Similar-sized quakes can cause massive destruction and high casualty figures but in impoverished and rural areas such as Alor, low-levels of urbanisation mean tolls are lower.
As of 1030 GMT, a total of 17 people across the island had been killed by the quake which was followed by three powerful aftershocks, Alor deputy police chief Hasan Kiko told AFP.
The tremors damaged approximately 1,100 buildings, many of them homes, across the island, he said, adding that at least 22 homes were flattened.
He said at least 160 people were hospitalised with serious and minor injuries and many people had left their dwellings to huddle in open fields.
Residents set up camp outside their houses fearing further tremors while tents were pitched outside the island's main hospital in the town of Kalabahi to treat victims.
The US embassy in Jakarta said it was releasing 50,000 US dollars of emergency assistance for the victims and was chartering air transport to deliver supplies.
The earthquake was also felt in the East Timor capital Dili, roughly 50 kilometres to the southeast of Alor, prompting many there to flee their homes.
There were no casualties and no major damage to the half-island nation, but residents said a floating hotel in Dili's natural harbour was briefly grounded as the quake caused waters to recede. Aftershocks continued to be felt.
East Timor's national security chief David Ximenes said meteorologists had warned of a major seismic event in the next two days and warned citizens to stay away from shorelines and major rivers where tidal waves were a risk.
Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, lies at the collision point of three tectonic plates. Pressure between the massive segments of the Earth's crust cause frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
In February at least 28 people were killed when a succession of powerful earthquakes hit Indonesia's Papua province.
A month earlier a quake measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale damaged more than 6,000 buildings and caused financial losses of about 12 million dollars on Bali and Lombok.
In June 2000, a quake measuring at 7.3 killed at least 94 people and damaged
more than 16,000 in Bengkulu province on Sumatra island.