Monday, April 11, 2005

Schools, offices deserted after powerful earthquake jolt Indonesian city


JAKARTA, (AFP) - Offices, markets and schools in Indonesia's Sumatra island city of Padang were deserted, hours after a powerful earthquake sparked panic among people fearing a tsunami, residents said.

Private businesses and government buildings were empty while schools were shut because of massive absenteeism, according to local journalists.

Traffic was also much lighter that usual and the city's commercial districts, including the main market were also quiet, with many shops closed.

The quake, measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale, hit at 5:29 pm (1029 GMT) on Sunday, with its epicentre estimated off the coast about 122.5 kilometres (76 miles) southwest of Padang.

Communications had not been restored to Siberut island, 75 kilometres east of the quake's epicentre, by mid-morning Monday.

In Padang there was minimal damage from the tremor but widespread panic with roads leading to the hills west of the city clogged by traffic and people fleeing their homes on foot.

West Sumatra, especially Padang, has been gripped by fears of an imminent massive earthquake and tsunami in recent days, with rumours of a new disaster fuelled by scientific predictions of an impending major seismic event.

The forecasts came in the wake of a huge 8.7 magnitude earthquake, centred on the same Indian Ocean geological faultline, that killed more than 600 people on the Indonesian island of Nias on March 28.

An earthquake last December in the same area and measuring 9.3 on the Richter scale generated a massive tidal wake that killed some 220,000 people in countries around the Indian Ocean.

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