Padang (Indonesia), Sep 13: Rescue teams headed for Indonesia's Sumatra coast today as aftershocks pounded the region where a powerful earthquake killed six people and perhaps many more the night before.
Tsunami warnings were issued for Indian Ocean rim countries after the latest aftershocks, including a shallow quake the US Geological Survey (USGS) said had a magnitude of 7.8.
The aftershocks sowed fresh panic among residents in Padang, the capital of West Sumatra. The town was thrown into chaos and many fled after the initial 8.4-magnitude quake, which the USGS said was the most powerful in the world this year.
''My family and neighbours are evacuating to higher ground.
Everyone in the place where I live decided to evacuate,'' said 35-year-old Padang resident Eri Kamra.
''I saw buildings collapse and one person lost consciousness after the morning quake,'' he told Reuters.
Yuli Bersi, a 42-year-old, housewife said she had also fled with her three children to higher ground after the latest quakes.
''We are really scared. This is the only way for us to survive,'' she said.
A Reuters witness said that a four-storey car showroom had collapsed, trapping several staff, and some injured people had to be moved out of hospital wards to the relative safety of tents.
Sleepless Night across the Region
Indonesia's Health Ministry crisis centre in Jakarta said the latest casualty figures showed that six people had been killed and 40 injured after the first quake, which was also felt in neighbouring Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia.
But David Oppenheimer, a scientist with the USGS in California, said the death toll could well rise as authorities take stock of the impact in the light of day.
A quake with an eight magnitude typically leads to partial collapse of buildings, houses moved off their foundations, and other damage, he said.
''That's the kind of stuff that causes death, especially in the Third World. I think there is an information blackout at this point.'' Japan's Meteorological Agency warned of a tsunami risk for Australia's Coco Islands and, further afield, the coasts of India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Sri Lanka.
A huge earthquake measuring more than 9 struck the same area of Indonesia on December 26, 2004, causing a massive tsunami and over 230,000 deaths in countries across the region.
Indonesia suffers frequent quakes, as it lies on an active seismic belt on part of the so-called Pacific ''Ring of Fire''.
Many people chose to sleep out in the open on Wednesday night rather than return indoors, a Red Cross official in Bengkulu, close to the epicentre of the quake, told Reuters.
''The emergency rescue system has mobilised and the president has ordered the military to help the rescue effort,'' President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's spokesman said.
Rustam Pakaya, head of the health ministry crisis centre, said the government would send one tonne of medicine, three tonnes of food supplements, and one tonne of noodles on Thursday for displaced people in the area.
The Indonesian military was sending four planes, including two Hercules aircraft packed with supplies and four helicopters to help rescue efforts.
Today's big aftershock rattled buildings in Malaysia's administrative capital of Putrajaya, south of Kuala Lumpur, and prompted hundreds of people to leave government offices.