Quake triggers tsunami warning

A powerful earthquake jolted eastern Indonesia, killing at least four people and damaging hundreds of homes.

Villagers carry a wall of their traditional wooden house which collapsed in Tolitoli, Central Sulawesi, on Nov 17 2008.
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JAKARTA, INDONESIA // A powerful earthquake struck an area off Indonesia's northern Sulawesi early today, killing at least four people and injuring nearly 60 after hundreds of houses collapsed. Indonesia briefly issued a tsunami warning, which was later lifted, the meteorological office said. The 7.5-magnitude quake was at a depth of 21km, with its epicentre 136km north-west of the provincial capital of Gorontalo, the US Geological Survey said. A series of further weaker aftershocks struck in the same area of the Celebes Sea bordering the southern Philippines. Rustam Pakaya, head of the Indonesian health ministry's crisis centre, said that four people had died, one in Gorontalo after a building collapsed and three in the district of Buol in Central Sulawesi province. He said 59 people were injured. Around 800 houses were damaged in Buol, Mr Pakaya said, adding there were reports of collapsed schools and homes in Gorontalo. A telephone operator in Gorontalo said the quake could be felt strongly in the city. "It felt quite big and caused panic," the operator said, adding that the telephone network had been disrupted. The latest aftershock came at 10.33pm, measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale, the meteorological agency said. Residents had fled to higher ground in some areas. In the town of Poso in central Sulawesi, residents were said to have rushed out of their houses and patients were evacuated from a hospital. Schools were also said to be closed in some areas of Sulawesi. An official at the Philippine Institute of Vulcanology and Seismology, the country's main earthquake watching agency, said it had also issued a tsunami alert after the quake. "We lifted a tsunami alert at 4.05am after we determined that it would not affect our southern coast," said Joan Salcedo, adding that the agency did not record any quake or aftershocks in the Philippines related to the Sulawesi tremor. Indonesia launched a new hi-tech system on Tuesday aimed at detecting a potential tsunami and providing faster alerts in a region battered by frequent earthquakes, though experts say large parts of the country are still not covered and the system will not be fully operational until 2010. The sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands, which lies in the seismically active 'Pacific Ring of Fire', was hit by a devastating tsunami four years ago that left about 170,000 people dead or missing in Aceh province. *Reuters