JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Thousands of terrified Indonesians were searching for shelter yesterday after an earthquake killed at least 70 people and damaged or destroyed hundreds of buildings on Sumatra island.
The 6.3-magnitude quake was centered 30 miles northeast of Padang in West Sumatra and struck at 10:49 a.m. yesterday local time, the U.S. Geological Survey said. Hundreds were injured, most by falling rubble.
Many survivors escaped more serious injury because they fled buildings when the tremors struck and were outside two hours later when a powerful aftershock toppled scores of buildings, said Gusmal, a district official in Solok, the hardest-hit area. Like many Indonesians, he uses only one name.
"The first one was not that bad, but it made me tremble," shop owner Alam Nasrah Ikhlas said by telephone from the seaside city of Padang. "I heard the thunderlike sound and the ground was shaking. I ran out of my shop. I saw everybody was panicked. They filled the street. It was so crowded. People were screaming and yelling, trying to go to a safer place."
The temblors left large cracks in shopping malls, government buildings and other structures, he added. Fearing a tsunami, like the Indian Ocean disaster that killed more than 229,000 people in several countries in December 2004, many survivors ran for higher ground.
Nasril, a civil servant in Solok district, was riding his motorcycle to the office when the road began to shake so violently he fell off. As people screamed around him, he saw a large wave cross nearby Lake Singkarak.
"I thought it was a tsunami," he said. "But as the quake diminished, the wave went down. People were running toward the hills."
Some of his neighbors' homes collapsed and dozens of houses near the lake were badly damaged, added Nasril, who planned to sleep outside with his extended family last night.
"I heard rumors spreading that there will be even stronger aftershocks later, so people are still alert," Ikhlas said.
In Solok, dozens of injured were treated in a hospital's front yard, where some victims lay on a plastic mat laid on the grass.
There are enough doctors, with sufficient medicine, to treat quake victims in Solok, but the town might need more ambulances to move the injured, Mayor Syamsu Rahim told an Indonesian television network.
"We are still counting numbers of homeless," said Suryadi, a provincial emergency worker. "Hundreds of buildings are in various states of damage. For sure, most people are still waiting outside their houses."
Rescue teams continued to search for survivors last night, and the provincial government was rushing more tents and medicines to the quake zone, he said.
University student Mely Oktia Darni was at an Internet cafe 10 minutes from home when the quake hit.
"I thought it was just a light quake, but when it grew stronger, I panicked," she said. "The lights went out. And I saw the electricity pole was falling. Then I paid my bills, and I ran out."
She tried to run to her house, where her mother was sick, but so many frightened people were in the street that it was too hard to get through the crowd.
"The second quake was stronger, and almost all of my stuff at home fell down," Darni said. "Many items are broken - glasses, vases, furniture."
The quake is the latest in a string of calamities that have struck Indonesia this year, including floods in the capital, Jakarta, the crash of a domestic airliner, in which 102 passengers and crew died, and two ferry disasters that killed more than 350 people.