January 15 (Al Jazeera) – At least 34 people have been killed and more than 600 injured after a magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck and toppled buildings in Indonesia’s Sulawesi island in the early hours of Friday, according to authorities.
The epicentre of the quake was six kilometres (3.73 miles) northeast of the city of Majene, at a depth of 10 kilometres (6.2 miles).
At least 15,000 people have also been displaced following the quake.
North of Majene, more than a dozen patients and staff are trapped beneath the rubble of a hospital that was flattened by the quake.
“The hospital is flattened – it collapsed,” said Arianto from the rescue agency in Mamuju city, who goes by one name.
“There are patients and hospital employees trapped under the rubble and we’re now trying to reach them,” he told AFP news agency, without giving a specific figure.
At least 26 of the fatalities were reported in Mamuju, while eight others were reported in other parts of Western Sulawesi.
“That number could grow but we hope it won’t… Many of the dead are buried under rubble,” Ali Rahman, head of Mamuju’s disaster mitigation agency told AFP.
Images and videos posted online showed damaged buildings and several people trapped in collapsed structures.
The disaster mitigation agency said a hotel and the office of the West Sulawesi governor were also severely damaged, and electricity supplies were also down.
Some roads and bridges were also damaged slowing down the rescue operation.
Several thousand panicked residents fled their homes to seek safety after the quake, which did not trigger a tsunami warning but was felt strongly for about seven seconds, the statement said.
An expert from the country’s meteorology, climatology, and geophysical agency, BMKG, warned that aftershocks could trigger a possible tsunami.
In an online press conference, BMKG Prof Dwikorita Karnawati has advised residents in the area to take precaution and move to higher ground.
“There is potential for a tsunami from subsequent aftershocks… Don’t wait for a tsunami first because they can happen very quickly,” she added.
Hours earlier, a 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck in the same district, damaging several houses.
Straddling the so-called Pacific ‘ring of fire’, Indonesia, an archipelago of high tectonic activity, is regularly hit by earthquakes.
In 2018, a devastating 6.2 magnitude quake and tsunami struck the city of Palu, further north in Sulawesi, killing thousands of people.
In December 2004, a 9.1 magnitude quake off the north of Indonesia’s Sumatra island triggered a tsunami that swept over coastal areas of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and nine other countries, killing more than 230,000 people.