A strong undersea earthquake rocked Indonesia’s Aceh province early on Wednesday. killing over 50 people and causing dozens of buildings to collapse. A frantic rescue effort involving dozens of villagers, soldiers and police was underway in Meureudu, a severely affected town in Pidie Jaya district. Three excavators were trying to remove debris from shop houses where three people were believed buried, said Suyatno, who heads Aceh’s search and rescue agency.
District chief Aiyub Abbas said hundreds of people in the district have been injured and more than 40 buildings including mosques, stores and homes were flattened. The district is located 18 kilometers (11 miles) southwest of the epicenter.
Abbas said 25 people have been killed in that district alone. A local health office said eight were young children.
The US Geological Survey said the shallow 6.4-magnitude earthquake that struck at 5:03 a.m. (2203 GMT Tuesday) was centered about 10 kilometers (6 miles) north of Reuleut, a town in northern Aceh, at a depth of 17 kilometers (11 miles). There was no risk of a tsunami.
Abbas said there is an urgent need for excavation equipment to move heavy debris and emergency supplies.
TV footage showed rescue personnel taking bodies in black bags away from the rubble.
In the nearby district of Bireuen, a teacher at an Islamic building school died after being hit by falling debris, said health worker Achmad Taufiq.
About 20 people were being treated at a health center and one person was moved to a hospital because of broken bones and a head injury, said Taufiq.
Residents of the nearby town of Lhokseumawe ran out of their houses in panic during the quake and many people fled to higher ground.
The world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia is prone to earthquakes due to its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.
In December 2004, a massive earthquake off Sumatra island triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries. More than 160,000 people died in Indonesia alone, and most of those deaths occurred in Aceh.