Indonesia reports casualties from quake, sends aid

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JAKARTA, Sep 13 (Reuters) A severe earthquake shook Indonesia's Sumatra region today, destroying buildings and killing at least two people in a toll experts said was sure to rise.

The 8.4 magnitude earthquake, which was also felt in neighbouring Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, caused extensive damage to buildings along Sumatra's coast, according to Adam Malik of Indonesia's National Disaster Management Office.

Some buildings had collapsed in Padang, the capital of West Sumatra north of the termor's epicentre, witnesses reported, while Metro TV said some buildings had caught fire.

''The city is in complete chaos. Everyone is heading to higher ground, I saw one house collapsed to the ground. I'm trying to save my family,'' said a Reuters witness in Padang.

Padang Mayor Fauzi Bahar said three people were trapped in a collapsed three-story office building.

David Oppenheimer, a scientist with the US. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California, said the death toll could well rise as authorities take stock of the impact.

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,'' he said, ''I think there is an information blackout at this point.'' TSUNAMI WARNINGS LIFTED Indonesia issued two tsunami warnings, one after the first quake, and the second after a smaller tremor a few hours later in the same area. However, the Indonesian warnings and most others in the region had been lifted by 0030 hrs IST today.

As several big aftershocks hit the region, many people chose to sleep out in the open rather than return indoors, a Red Cross official in Bengkulu, close to the epicentre of the quake, told Reuters.

''Glass was broken, ceilings collapsed, and the walls cracked in the hospital,'' said Aldi, a member of the staff of M. Yunus hospital in Bengkulu. He added that patients were being treated in two tents erected in the hospital grounds and that more tents were needed.

Rustam Pakaya, head of the health ministry crisis centre in Jakarta, 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 two main cities that were worst hit, Bengkulu and Padang, have a total population of about two million people, he said. ''This quake is a test in Ramadan so that Indonesians become more patient,'' Pakaya said, referring to the fact that the quake struck on the eve of the Muslim fasting month.

An official at Indonesia's meteorological agency said gauges measured a wave surge of one metre after the first quake.

''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.

A huge earthquake struck the same area on December 26, 2004, causing a massive tsunami and more than 230,000 deaths in countries across the region.

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

Indonesia's meteorological agency said the big quake's epicentre was 159 km southwest of Bengkulu, a remote area of mountains and forests.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued an Indian Ocean tsunami warning after the first quake struck at 1640 hrs IST.

Authorities from Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Australia issued independent warnings, as did India for the Andaman and Nicobar islands, France for the island of Reunion and Mozambique.

Reuters SZ VP0300

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