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Indonesia quake death toll 44, likely to rise

THE death toll from an earthquake that struck Indonesia, shattering rural homes and forcing terrified city residents into the street, stood at 44 and was likely to rise, government agencies said today.

The 7.0 magnitude quake shook buildings in the capital Jakarta yesterday afternoon and flattened homes in villages closer to the epicentre in West Java.

Reuters reporters saw many damaged houses as well as makeshift tents and shelters on the streets and in fields.

"They have taken refuge not only because their houses were ruined, but also because they fear there will be aftershocks," said local official Obar Sobarna. About 5,000 people were taking refuge in the area, he added.

Indonesia's main power, oil and gas, steel, and mining companies with operations in West and Central Java island closest to the quake's epicentre said they had suffered no damage.

In Cikangkareng village, South Cianjur district, about 60 miles (100 km) south of Jakarta, the quake triggered a landslide, sending rocks cascading onto much of the village and its residents, indluding a mosque, a Reuters witness said.

"Many of our young were buried by the landslide. We need food, we don't have food," said Rohim, one of the villagers.

"I'm here because I'm afraid of possible aftershocks," said Kakom, a 65-year-old woman at an evacuation site.

At least 44 people were killed in West Java, and more than 18,000 houses as well as offices, mosques and other buildings were damaged, said Priyadi Kardono, spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

Forty-two people were listed as missing. Kardono said the toll could "change significantly" given the scale of damage. Some coastal areas were out of contact for several hours.


Asian states offered to help deal with the quake aftermath.

"We've said to the Indonesian authorities we will work with them in terms of any assistance that we can provide," Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told national radio.

Yukio Hatoyama, Japan's next prime minister after his Democratic Party of Japan's landslide election victory, said his government would provide help "regardless of any request.

"We need to make sure there are no delays in providing aid that we would normally be able to provide because of a policy vacuum."

The health ministry was sending medical teams to West Java. State news agency Antara said villagers were clearing rubble from wrecked buildings to dig out survivors and bodies.

Indonesia's 17,000 islands are scattered along a belt of volcanic and seismic activity known as the Pacific "ring of fire", one of the most quake-prone places on earth.

More than 170,000 Indonesians were killed or listed missing after a 9.15 magnitude earthquake off Indonesia's Aceh province on Sumatra triggered a tsunami in December 2004. A total of 230,000 people died in Indian Ocean countries.

Indonesia's seismology agency put the magnitude of yesterday's quake at 7.3 with the epicentre 142 km (88 miles) southwest of Tasikmalaya, in West Java.

"Many houses are flattened to the ground," said Edi Sapuan in Margamukti village, near Tasikmalaya. "Only the wooden houses remain standing. Many villagers are injured, covered in blood."

"We ran as soon as the quake hit. Then five minutes later my house collapsed."

The quake was felt as far away as Surabaya, Indonesia's second city, 500 km (300 miles) northeast of Tasikmalaya, and on the resort island of Bali, about 700 km (420 miles) to the east.

At least 38 people were injured in Jakarta, the health ministry said. Buildings shook and residents said thousands of people poured into the streets from office and apartment blocks.

"The chandelier started moving and it started shaking really strong," said Victor Chan, who lives in a 34th floor flat. "It lasted quite long. I was really scared and rushed downstairs."


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