Indonesia‘s Moluccas islands have been hit by a series of aftershocks after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake killed at least two people, prompting hundreds of people to flee their homes.
The United States Geological Survey said Sunday’s quake was centred 166km southeast of Ternate, the capital of North Maluku province, at a depth of just 10km. Shallow tremors tend to cause more damage than deeper ones.
Agus Wibowo, spokesman for Indonesia’s national disaster agency, said on Monday two women were killed by collapsing houses and more than 2,000 people had relocated to temporary shelters. The earthquake was followed by at least 65 smaller aftershocks.
The hardest-hit areas, Sofifi and Labuha, can only be accessed by a 10-hour boat trip from Ternate or by small plane, Wibowo said.
“We don’t wish for more victims, but we cannot rule out that possibility since access to the area is difficult and we cannot yet collect all the data regarding casualties,” Wibobo told reporters in the capital, Jakarta.
Even though the authorities said there was no risk of a tsunami, many people ran to higher ground, and television footage showed panicked residents screaming while running out of a shopping centre in Ternate.
Ikhsan Subur, a local disaster agency official in Labuha, the town closest to the earthquake’s epicentre, said several hundred people who were afraid of aftershocks took shelter in government offices and mosques.
He said a police dormitory and several houses of villagers in South Halmahera district were damaged.
Two bridges had also been damaged by the quake.
With a population of around one million, North Maluku is one of the less populated areas in Indonesia, a country of more than 260 million people that is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions due to its location along the Pacific “Ring of Fire”.
A powerful Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004 killed a total of 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Indonesia.
Last week, a magnitude 6.9 undersea earthquake caused panic in parts of eastern Indonesia and triggered a tsunami warning.