PADANG, Indonesia - Two strong earthquakes hit Indonesia's Sumatra island on Tuesday, killing at least 70 people and sending emergency operations into full swing to deal with dozens of injured.
Office staff are evacuated from their building after tremors were felt in the central business district of Singapore March 6, 2007. [Reuters]
The tremors were felt as far away as Malaysia and Singapore, where several buildings were evacuated.
The first quake of magnitude 6.3 was felt in the West Sumatra provincial capital of Padang at around 11 a.m., sparking panic among seaside residents who feared it might trigger a tsunami.
A second 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck the same area two hours later, causing more panic.
However, there was no immediate tsunami warning after the quakes, which were on land.
Indonesia's cabinet secretary Sudi Silalahi said 70 people had been killed.
The United States Geological Survey said the first quake's epicentre was around 420 km (260 miles) from Singapore. The Indonesian national quake center measured the quake at 5.8 on the Richter scale.
Some buildings collapsed and several homes and other buildings were badly damaged by the tremors that sent several people scrambling for safety, including 200-300 patients who ran out of a hospital in Padang, a Reuters witness said.
Citing reports from regencies the mayor of Padang, Fauzi Bahar, said 14 people had died in Solok town, 40 km (25 miles) northeast of Padang, 16 in Batusangkar and one in Payakumbuh.
"Many have calmed down and are returning home, but we can still see some traffic jams around the city," Bahar told Reuters.
"The numbers may increase, not every area provided the report."
The mayor of Solok said hospitals were overwhelmed with dozens of injured.
"Our priority is to handle the injured ones, including their families. We have set up six tents at a soccer field as emergency posts," Syamsu Rahim, the mayor of Solok, told Reuters.
Padang is one of the few Indonesian cities where a tsunami warning system is in place. A quake in the Indian Ocean off Sumatra island in December 2004 and the tsunami it caused left about 170,000 people dead or missing in Indonesia's northern Aceh province.
"It was really strong. I panicked, I ran out of the house just like the other neighbors," housewife Asmiarti, whose home is on the northern Padang shore, told Reuters by phone.
"When we got out, our bodies were still shaking and the trees were also shaking. We fear there would be a tsunami but there has been no announcement so far," she said.
Earthquakes are frequent in Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country. Its 17,000 islands sprawl along a belt of intense volcanic and seismic activity, part of what is called the "Pacific Ring of Fire."
In March 2005, a powerful earthquake devastated Nias island, off the west coast of northern Sumatra, killing hundreds of people and leaving tens of thousands homeless.
A Reuters witness said Padang residents tried to reach higher places and their vehicles crowded main streets, triggering congested traffic across the city.
Callers told a Jakarta-based radio station that residents in several West Sumatra towns ran out of their houses when the quake was first felt.
Tall buildings in Singapore's business district swayed slightly, occupants said, and the tremor was also felt in other parts of the island.
Traders said there was little or no impact on financial markets trading.
The tremor was also felt in west coast areas of Malaysia, the meteorological office in that country said.