Thursday, September 3, 2009

JAKARTA, Indonesia | Indonesians ran screaming out of buildings when a major earthquake rocked the country Wednesday, killing at least 33 people and unleashing a mass of rock and mud that buried villagers alive in their homes.

The magnitude-7.0 temblor lasted nearly a minute and was felt hundreds of miles away. Many of the victims were in buildings that buckled during the jolt, and at least 10 died in their houses when a landslide slammed into their neighborhood. Dozens were reported missing and injured.

Thousands of panicked residents fled homes, malls and government offices throughout the country, some screaming in fright, when the shaking began in the middle of the workday.

More than 700 structures collapsed or were badly damaged in towns and villages in hardest-hit West Java, said Social Affairs Ministry official Mardi, who like many Indonesians uses just one name.

The Disaster Management Agency said at least 33 people died. With several dozen reported missing, officials said they feared the death toll would rise.

“The earthquake was shaking everything in my house very strongly for almost a minute,” Heni Maryani, a resident in the town of Sukabumi, told Radio Elshinta. “I grabbed my children and ran out. I saw people were in panic. Women were screaming, and children were crying.”

Hospitals quickly filled with scores of injured people after the quake struck just off the southern coast of Java, where most of Indonesia’s 235 million people live.

A tsunami warning was issued after the quake struck at 2:55 p.m. but was revoked an hour later. Several dozen aftershocks were measured by geological agencies.

The worst report of fatalities was from a village in Cianjur district, where about 30 people were still thought trapped after the landslide, the official Antara news agency reported. The Disaster Management Agency said 10 bodies had been pulled from the debris.

Health Ministry Crisis Center chief Rustam Pakaya said at least 27 people were admitted to hospitals in Jakarta and the number of injured was still rising. One person died in Jakarta, but no details were provided.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the underwater quake was magnitude 7.0 at a depth of about 30 miles. The Indonesian Meteorological and Geophysics Agency put the strength at 7.3.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago, straddles continental plates and is prone to seismic activity along what is known as the Pacific Ring of Fire. A huge quake off western Indonesia caused a powerful tsunami in December 2004 that killed about 230,000 people in a dozen countries, half of them in Indonesia’s Aceh province.

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