A 6.2-magnitude earthquake has struck the north-western coast of Sulawesi island in Indonesia, killing at least 35 people, destroying houses, flattening a hospital and setting off landslides.
Disaster officials have also reported that more than 600 people have been injured in the quake with at least 15,000 people also displaced.
The epicentre of the quake was six kilometres (3.73 miles) northeast of the city of Majene, at a depth of 10 kilometres (6.2 miles). More than a dozen patients and staff are said to be trapped beneath the rubble of a hospital that was flattened by the quake in the city.
“The hospital is flattened – it collapsed,” said Arianto from the rescue agency in Mamuju city, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
“There are patients and hospital employees trapped under the rubble and we’re now trying to reach them,” he told reporters.
At least 26 of the fatalities were reported in Mamuju, while eight others were reported in other parts of Western Sulawesi.
“That number could grow but we hope it won’t… Many of the dead are buried under rubble,” Ali Rahman, Head of Mamuju’s Disaster Mitigation Agency told reporters.
“I’m afraid to say how many fatalities,” added Ardiansyah, an emergency response official for West Sulawesi Province, who also uses one name. “We are still evacuating and erecting shelters. Many people are buried under the ruins.”
The Disaster Mitigation Agency said in a statement that a hotel and the office of the West Sulawesi governor were also severely damaged, and electricity supplies were also down. Some roads and bridges were also damaged slowing down the rescue operation.
Several thousand panicked residents fled their homes to seek safety after the quake, which did not trigger a tsunami warning but was felt strongly for about seven seconds, the statement added.
An expert from the country’s meteorology, climatology, and geophysical agency, BMKG, warned that aftershocks could trigger a possible tsunami.
In an online press conference, BMKG’s Professor Dwikorita Karnawati advised residents in the area to take precaution and move to higher ground.
“There is potential for a tsunami from subsequent aftershocks… Don’t wait for a tsunami first because they can happen very quickly,” she added.
Disaster officials have said they expect the number of deaths and injuries from the earthquake to grow as they receive information from areas that had been cut off.
The flight control tower at Mamuju’s commercial airport was damaged in the quake, and flight control duties were taken over by the air navigation office in Makassar, south of Mamuju.
Indonesia sits on the so-called Ring of Fire, a line of seismic and volcanic activity that circles much of the Pacific Ocean and is highly susceptible to earthquakes and tsunamis.
The area hit by the quake is about 160 miles southwest of the city of Palu, where a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck in 2018, melting part of the city and killing thousands.
In the same year, an earthquake on Lombok Island killed hundreds, and a quake and tsunami caused by the eruption of the Anak Krakatau volcano killed hundreds more on Java and Sumatra islands.