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Earthquakes rattle Indonesia

MONDAY, JAN. 5, 2009

10-year-old girl dies in series of temblors

MANOKWARI, Indonesia – A series of powerful earthquakes killed a 10-year-old girl and injured dozens in remote eastern Indonesia on Sunday, briefly triggering fears of another tsunami in a country still recovering from 2004’s deadly waves.

One of the quakes – a 7.3-magnitude tremor – was felt as far away as Australia.

Residents near the epicenter in Papua province rushed from their homes in search of higher ground shortly after the first 7.6-magnitude quake struck at 4:43 a.m. local time, afraid that huge waves might wash over the island.

The epicenter was about 85 miles from Papua’s main city of Manokwari and occurred at a depth of 22 miles, the U.S. Geological Survey said. It was followed by dozens of aftershocks.

Dozens were injured and some 135 homes and other buildings were badly damaged or toppled in the province. Officials initially reported four deaths, but later discovered three people had died from illnesses. The 10-year-old girl was killed in her home when a wall collapsed, said hospital director Hengky Tewu.

Power lines fell, cutting off electricity, and the runway of Manokwari’s Rendani airport was cracked, prompting the cancellation of commercial flights.

The government initially issued a tsunami warning but lifted it within an hour after it was confirmed that the epicenter was on land, not water.

Quakes centered onshore pose little tsunami threat to Indonesia itself, but those close to the coast can churn up large waves that sometimes reach the coastlines of other countries such as Japan.

A huge quake off western Indonesia caused the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed about 230,000 people, more than half of them on the western Indonesian island of Sumatra. Four years on, the multibillion-dollar rebuilding process is almost complete.

Residents in Papua’s Manokwari – a jumble of low-lying brick and cement structures home to 167,000 people – remained jittery late Sunday, with thousands prepared to sleep outside for fear of aftershocks.

“We don’t feel safe,” said Simon, 32, who like many Indonesians goes by one name. He was staying outside with his wife and three kids. “It’s just in case there are strong aftershocks.”

The Indonesian Health Ministry was sending an aid team to Manokwari Sunday night as well as four tons of medical supplies and baby food, spokeswoman Lily Sulistyowati said.

Relief agency World Vision Indonesia was flying in 2,000 emergency provision kits, including canned food, blankets and basic medical supplies, said spokeswoman Katarina Hardono.

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