JAKARTA (AFP) – A powerful 7.9-magnitude quake struck off Indonesia’s Sumatra island on Wednesday, destroying large buildings and starting fires in the major city of, geologists and reports said.
“A number of hotels in Padang have been destroyed,” Indonesian geophysics and meteorology agency tsunami warning head Rahmat Triyono said, adding the agency did not release a tsunami alert.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii however issued a tsunami watch for Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Thailand but later cancelled it.
“Up to now we haven’t been able to reach Padang, communications have been cut,” Triyono said.
The quake struck at sea at 5:16 pm (1016 GMT) at a fairly deep 87 kilometres (54 miles), 53 kilometres northwest of Padang city in West Sumatra province, the United States Geological Survey said.
Local news channel Metro TV reported fires amid hundreds of collapsed houses in Padang, a city of 900,000, where panicked residents had run onto the streets as the quake hit.
“We haven’t received any reports of casualties yet because communication lines in the areas close to the epicentre like Pariaman and Padang have completely broken down,” Indonesian geophysics agency head technical head Suharjono told AFP.
“Several hotels in Padang such as the Minang Hotel have also collapsed but all this needs to be confirmed,” he said.
The quake was felt in the capital Jakarta 940 kilometres away and sent panicked office workers streaming out of buildings in nearby Singapore and the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.
“The shaking was the worst I had ever felt,” Yuliarni, a resident of Pariaman district outside of Padang, told TVOne news channel.
“Houses have collapsed, the lights and electricity were cut off… People were fleeing to higher ground and some were hurt,” she said.
The quake caused a landslide that destroyed houses at lake Maninjau inland from Padang, local resident Hafiz told the channel.
Geologists have said Padang, which lies near the colliding Indo-Australian and Eurasian tectonic plates, is the most likely in the country to fall victim to the next major quake or tsunami.
The city is most at risk from a final segment along the zone shifting to unleash a massive amount of energy.
The zone’s other segments have already cracked, including a large portion off Aceh, at the northern tip of Indian Ocean tsunami which killed more than 220,000 people., which triggered the 2004
Plans for evacuation shelters and improved roads to provide better escape routes from tsunami have mostly not been realised.
Indonesia sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where the meeting of continental plates causes high volcanic and .
A quake on the main island of Java earlier this month killed 123 people.