September 26, 2019 / 12:36 AM / 18 days ago

Strong quake near Indonesia's Ambon kills at least 20

AMBON, Indonesia (Reuters) - A magnitude 6.5 earthquake that hit Indonesia’s eastern province of Maluku has killed at least 20 people, damaged buildings and sent people fleeing to the hills, officials and witnesses said.

A damaged traditional market building is pictured following an earthquake in Ambon, Indonesia, September 26, 2019 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Izaak Mulyawan/via REUTERS

Disaster officials said the early morning quake, initially measured at a magnitude of 6.8, woke residents of towns such as provincial capital Ambon, about 40 km (25 miles) from the epicenter, but the geophysics agency ruled out a tsunami.

A spokesman for Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency (BNPB), Agus Wibowo, told reporters in Jakarta that 20 people had died after the quake.

One person was killed when part of the third floor at an Islamic university collapsed in the quake, said Benny Bugis, a cameraman who works for Reuters.

“He was just getting out of a car and entering a door and the collapsing rubble fell onto him,” Bugis said, adding that two people were also injured.

BNPB data showed numerous buildings and public facilities were damaged, including government and university buildings, while some fracturing was seen on a major bridge in Ambon city.

Dozens of houses suffered major damage and about 2,000 people were sheltering across the province, in need of tents, food, drinking water, medicine and blankets, Wibowo said.

Albert Simaela, a disaster agency official in Ambon, said people fled from areas near the ocean, fearing a tsunami, shortly after the first tremor.

“Now everyone has headed to the hills, by motorcycles, by cars and on foot. The traffic is clogged,” he told Reuters.

“EVERYONE HAS EVACUATED”

“Children are off school now, the city is quiet because everyone has evacuated. Although there is information that there will be no tsunami, people are still afraid.”

Indonesia’s geophysics agency reported a number of aftershocks, including one of magnitude 5.6.

Video images on social media showed plaster and rubble scattered on floors and chairs in the Al Anshor Islamic boarding school, but a witness said no injuries were reported there.

Another video showed large cracks and broken glass at a car showroom.

The state power company said electricity had been cut off in several areas after the quake, but was mostly restored later.

Indonesia, which sits on the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire, often experiences deadly earthquakes and tsunamis.

In September 2018, Palu, on the island of Sulawesi west of Maluku, was devastated by a 7.5-magnitude earthquake and a powerful tsunami it unleashed, killing more than 4,000 people.

Slideshow (3 Images)

In 2004, a quake off Sumatra island triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean that killed 226,000 in 14 countries, more than 120,000 of them in Indonesia.

Graphic: Map of Seram island in Maluku province, Indonesia (here)

Reporting by Ed Davies, Gayatri Suroyo, Jessica Damiana in Jakarta,; Additional reporting by Wilda Asmarini; Writing by Lincoln Feast, Fransiska Nangoy; Editing by Catherine Evans, William Maclean

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