JAKARTA, Indonesia, October 1, 2009 (ENS) – At least 1,000 people have died and hundreds more have been injured in a severe earthquake that struck the Indonesian island of West Sumatra on Wednesday night, the latest in a series of deadly natural disasters in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific this week.

Indonesian officials predict that the death toll will rise into the thousands as search and rescue teams pull more bodies from the rubble.

Measured at a magnitude of 7.6, the quake occurred 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of of Padang, the capital city of West Sumatra province, and 960 km (590 miles) northwest of the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.

Wednesday’s earthquake was so strong that people reported shaking of tall buildings in Jakarta, and in Singapore and Malaysia.

Today, another strong earthquake, magnitude 6.6, struck an inland area 225 km (140 miles) southeast of Padang city, causing more panic amongst residents, but there have been no immediate reports of casualties or damage from this quake.

The Coordination Unit for Disaster Control in West Sumatra reports that the deaths were recorded in Padang City, in the towns of Pariaman, Solok and Bukitinggi, and in the Padang Pariaman district.

Padang is without power or telecommunications, and all businesses in the city are closed. City residents also are faced with water supply problems as PDAM, the Indonesian regional water utility, is not functioning. Landslides have closed roads in the region.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono surveys the damage and meets survivors in Padang, Indonesia. (Photo courtesy Office of the President)

The roof of the Padang airport was destroyed in the quake, and more than 500 buildings are reported to have collapsed, including homes, schools, hospitals and hotels. The Antara News Agency reports that close to 80 percent of buildings in Padang are damaged, including school and university buildings. Indonesian architects are urging that reconstruction be done to earthquake-resistant standards.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has just flown in from the United States where he was attending the G-20 Summit, arrived in Padang today to inspect the stricken region.

The Indonesian government has told the United Nations that international assistance would be welcome. Priority needs are medical supplies, petrol, generators, sanitation equipment, food and shelter equipment.

A UN inter-agency team has arrived in Padang, while a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination mission is scheduled to arrive tomorrow.

Muslim Aid emergency relief teams are on the ground carrying out essential needs assessments and liaising with UN relief agencies to co-ordinate an emergency response. The Muslim nonprofit has mobilized hundreds of volunteers for action.

Ruined buildings in Padang following the earthquake. (Photo courtesy gempa padang sumatra barat)

Mohammed Bali, head of emergency programs at Muslim Aid, said, “People are in urgent need of your support. Our priority is to provide clean water, food and temporary shelter to the survivors of the earthquake. Funds are urgently needed to distribute emergency relief so we can continue to save lives. Your donations are urgently needed.”

An aerial survey by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent, IFRC, shows the extent of the devastation.

“We surveyed the affected area by helicopter and it was like a huge shockwave had come through and flattened houses, schools and mosques for as far as the eye could see,” reports Wayne Ulrich the IFRC’s disaster management coordinator in Padang. “On some of the hillsides it was total devastation; it looked like entire villages had been swallowed up by landslides.”

Southeast Asia and the South Pacific region have suffered four natural disasters within the past six days – devastation from Typhoon Ketsana and torrential rains in the Philippines and Vietnam Saturday and Sunday, a severe earthquake followed by a tsunami on the Samoan islands on Tuesday that killed more than 120 people, and Wednesday’s earthquake in Indonesia.

A senior UN official called for global unity in responding to the series of deadly natural disasters. Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Programme said in a statement, “When nature strikes with such force, the world must come together.”

The World Food Programme is expanding its relief operation in the Philippines, aiming to provide food to one million flood-affected people in October.

An estimated 2.5 million people in the Philippines have been affected by the floods, including more than one million who have fled their flooded homes to shelter at evacuation centres or with host families.

“This is a catastrophe for the people of the Philippines and our hearts go out to them,” said Sheeran. “Thousands of homes have been flooded, and people have been trudging through filthy storm water in search of loved ones and belongings.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.