JAKARTA, Indonesia – A powerful earthquake jolted eastern Indonesia today, killing at least two people, crumpling homes and briefly triggering a region-wide tsunami warning, officials said as they surveyed the damage.
The 7.5-magnitude quake struck off the coast of Sulawesi island in the middle of the night, sending thousands fleeing homes, hotels and even hospitals.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake struck 85 miles from the nearest city, Gorantalo, on Sulawesi island. It was centered 16 miles beneath the sea and was followed by two strong aftershocks.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center initially warned the temblor had the potential to generate a destructive tsunami along coasts within 600 miles. But even after local officials lifted the tsunami alert, frightened Sulawesi residents refused to go back indoors.
In December 2004, a massive earthquake off Indonesia’s Sumatra island triggered a tsunami that battered much of the Indian Ocean coastline and killed more than 230,000 people – 131,000 of them in Indonesia’s Aceh province alone. A tsunami off Java island last year killed nearly 5,000.
By morning, officials were starting to get a better sense of the damage.
Rustam Pakaya, the head of the Health Ministry’s Crisis Center, said at least two people died, 37 were injured and more than 200 homes were damaged, some of them completely crumpled.
A witness in the city of Poso said patients from at least one hospital were evacuated.
Indonesia is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location on the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.