Rescuers to check isolated islands after Indonesia quake

Ship, carrying team of rescuers, sent to check on remote Indonesian islands following Wednesday’s powerful 7.9 magnitude earthquake

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Residents flee to higher ground after an earthquake struck off the west coast of Sumatra, in the city of Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia March 2, 2016.

A ship, which is carrying military personnel and search and rescue officials, was dispatched on Thursday to check on remote island communities in western Indonesia a day after a powerful earthquake, as strong aftershocks rattled the region.

The 7.9 magnitude, shallow undersea quake hit late Wednesday off Sumatra, Indonesia's main western island, sending panicked residents fleeing for the hills and briefly triggering a tsunami alert.

Sumatra is regularly hit by natural disasters, with the worst in recent memory the 2004 quake-triggered tsunami, which engulfed the northern tip of the island and killed more than 200,000 people in Indonesia and in countries around the Indian Ocean.

But Wednesday's tsunami alert was lifted after several hours and life was returning to normal in Sumatra's major cities, with no reports so far of casualties or major damage to buildings.

Indonesian patients and relatives gather outside a hospital in Padang late March 2, 2016, after a powerful earthquake struck off the coast of the island of Sumatra.

However, the national search and rescue agency said a ship was dispatched to Tuapejat in the Mentawai Islands, off Sumatra's west coast, to check on isolated communities.

"The team will head there to check the situation," the agency's West Sumatra division said in a statement, adding that residents were still believed to be sheltering in the hills.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", where the meeting of continental plates causes strong seismic activity, and is frequently hit by earthquakes.

Indonesia's Meteorology, Climate and Geophysics Agency, which monitors earthquakes, said aftershocks were continuing to rumble throughout the region, with a 5.3 magnitude quake recorded Thursday at around 9:30am (0230 GMT).

"Based on data from these aftershocks we do not believe there will be an earthquake of greater strength," the agency said in a statement.