Indonesians huddle in tents in Sumatra

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Bengkulu (Indonesia), Sep 14: Frightened residents on Indonesia's Sumatra island huddled in tents outside their damaged homes today, traumatised by the latest of nearly 40 aftershocks since a huge earthquake struck two days ago.

Indonesia's meteorology agency issued the latest in a series of tsunami warnings late yesterday after another strong quake struck Sumatra. It lifted the warning after a few hours.

The overnight quake triggered new panic among thousands camping out in makeshift shelters or tents, using torches and kerosene lights, and setting fires to keep warm in drizzling rain.

Wednesday's massive quake and the ensuing aftershocks killed at least 13 people and toppled hundreds of buildings.

''I just let everything and ran,'' said Irnawati, who had been cooking when the latest quake struck.

The 50-year-old was camped in front of the governor's office, in Bengkulu, the nearest major town to the epicentre of the 8.4 magnitude quake, the most powerful in the world this year.

Seismologist Mike Turnbull at Central Queensland University said the region was lucky to have escaped a tsunami similar to the one that killed more than 280,000 people in 2004.

This view was echoed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who told reporters yesterday that damage from the initial quake was ''relatively less'' than feared.

He said that a thorough assessment was needed, but ''people are better at responding to disasters than in previous years''.

There have been nearly 40 tremors ranging in intensity from 4.9 to 7.8 since Wednesday's huge quake, repeatedly setting off tsunami warnings in Indian Ocean countries. But there have been no reports of major surges hitting coastlines. The 2004 tsunami was caused by a quake of more than 9 magnitude.

The quakes in the last few days in Sumatra were felt in neighbouring Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

A separate 6.4 tremor was also reported off Sulawesi island, to the east of Sumatra yesterday.

Rustam Pakaya, head of the Indonesian health ministry's crisis centre in Jakarta, said via a telephone text message today that 13 people had been killed and 55 injured across the region since Wednesday's quake.

Roads in the north of Bengkulu province were lined with tents and a Reuters photographer about 8 in 10 houses appeared badly damaged or destroyed.

The province, one of Indonesia's key coffee-growing regions, has a population of about 1.57 million.

Indonesia suffers frequent quakes, as it lies on an active seismic belt on the so-called Pacific ''Ring of Fire''.


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