An earthquake registering 6.0 on the Richter scale shook a remote island in eastern Indonesia on Friday, killing 16 people and injuring dozens more, a government official said.
Muhammad Bere, head of the disaster relief center in the town of Kalabahi on Alor island, said the death toll could rise because rescuers had not reached many affected areas.
“Our latest data shows 16 dead with most of them killed after their houses collapsed on them. This data may likely go up from hour to hour, day to day, because it is very difficult to reach several areas,” Bere told Reuters.
He said the quake damaged more than 600 houses, six schools, several churches and mosques. The island’s airport was also damaged and was out of action.
The government earthquake monitoring center in the city of Kupang on nearby Timor island, said the earthquake struck Kalabahi, 1,200 miles east of Jakarta, at around 5:26 a.m. (4:26 p.m. ET Thursday).
Around 170,000 people live on the picturesque but poor island of Alor, which is predominantly Christian and known for its intricate weaving products and underwater beauty. Most of the population resides in seaside Kalabahi and nearby hillside villages.
Rugged terrain has become an obstacle for rescuers trying to reach more remote areas on the mountainous island, located across a strait from East Timor’s capital city of Dili.
“Two-wheel vehicles cannot reach parts of the island, let alone four-wheel ones so we’re trying to use speedboats to reach those affected areas,” Bere said, adding the quake caused a tsunami at the more isolated eastern part of Alor. He didn’t have any more details.
Another government official in Kalabahi, Hasan Kito, told Reuters many residents were asleep when the quake struck. Aftershocks were still rocking the island.
“We can still feel the jolts now every five to 10 minutes. When it first happened, all of us panicked and tried to run from our houses,” said Kito, who works for the district office.
“Some were still wearing their undergarments. We were just so shocked,” he said, adding the government had erected makeshift tents for victims.
A witness in Dili said the quake was also felt in the world’s youngest country but there had been no reports of damage so far.
Earthquakes often occur in Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,000 islands that lies along the Pacific “Ring of fire.”
An earthquake registering 7.1 on the Richter scale that hit Indonesia’s easternmost province of Papua in February killed at least 30 people and left around 26,000 homeless.