- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 3, 2002

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) A massive earthquake registering a magnitude as high as 7.7 rocked Indonesia's Sumatra island early yesterday, injuring at least 48 persons, damaging houses and causing panicked residents to flee buildings and run into the streets.
Seismologists in Singapore said there was a high risk of tsunami, powerful waves caused by seismic activity, in western Sumatra.
Meanwhile in Italy, aftershocks continued to rattle the abandoned village of San Giuliano di Puglia yesterday as prosecutors investigated whether poor construction was to blame for the deaths of 26 children buried when an earthquake flattened their school while adjacent buildings remained standing.
Three adults also died in the 5.4-magnitude Italian quake: a teacher crushed with her students and two elderly women killed in their homes.
There were contradictory reports of the magnitude of the earthquake in Sumatra yesterday. Australian scientists said it registered a magnitude 7.7, making it a major earthquake capable of widespread, heavy damage.
The U.S. Geological Survey and the Hong Kong Observatory said the quake registered 7.5 and Indonesia's Meteorology and Geophysics Agency said it registered 5.3.
At least 48 persons, including a 6-year-old girl, were hospitalized on Simeulue island, 250 miles from Sumatra's northern tip, Simeulue hospital chief Dr. Hanif said. Single names are common in Indonesia.
Mark Leonard of Geoscience Australia said the temblor was not likely to be very destructive because it was offshore. The USGS Web site said the quake was located 13 miles off the coast of northern Sumatra and was nearly 21 miles deep.
However, Indonesian seismologist Karyono said it was centered onshore, about 20 miles north of Singkil town, in Aceh province. He said the quake struck in marshland with no inhabitants.
In the rural Italian village of San Giuliano di Puglia, the loss of so many children in a close-knit community of 1,200 weighed most heavily as residents prepared for a mass funeral today .
The school was built in 1953, but Italian news reports said a second story was added in recent years to incorporate the nursery, elementary and middle school classrooms. Heavy cement had been applied to the upper level, the reports said, suggesting that the added weight may have helped bring down the building.
Investigating magistrates inspected the site yesterday and said their investigation would look into whether manslaughter or negligence charges were warranted.
The village was eerily quiet yesterday, evacuated Friday after two aftershocks, one measuring 5.3.
Amid confusion over the final toll, the school's principal, Giuseppe Colombo, confirmed yesterday that all nine students in the first grade had died, wiping out the village's 6-year-olds.

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