Typically earthquakes of this intensity are expected to cause light damage to buildings but the magnitude 5.6 tremor left hundreds of people dead and thousands injured in Indonesia.

Many buildings in the region are not built with quake-proof designs which contributed to the damage.
Many buildings in the region are not built with quake-proof designs which contributed to the damage. (AFP)

The shallow quake has left more than 270 dead as buildings crumbled and terrified residents ran for their lives on Indonesia’s main island of Java.

Rescuers have been pulling the bodies from the debris in the hardest-hit city of Cianjur, in the country’s most densely populated province of West Java. 

A number of people are still missing in the landslide hit area of Cugenang district.

Typically earthquake of this intensity is expected to cause light damage to buildings and other structures. 

But experts say due to the proximity of fault lines, the shallowness of the quake and inadequate infrastructure that cannot withstand earthquakes all led to the scale of this kind of damage. 

Here's a closer look why it caused so much devastation:

Was Monday's quake considered strong?

The US Geological Survey said the quake late Monday afternoon measured magnitude 5.6 and struck at a depth of 10 kilometres. 

Quakes of this size usually don't cause widespread damage to well-built infrastructure. 

But the agency points out, “There is not one magnitude above which damage will occur. It depends on other variables, such as the distance from the earthquake, what type of soil you are on, building construction” and other factors. 

Dozens of buildings were damaged in Indonesia, including schools, a hospital and other public facilities.

READ MORE: Indonesia rescuers focus on landslide amid rising quake toll

Why did it cause such large scale damage?

Experts said the proximity to fault lines, the depth of the temblor and buildings not being constructed using earthquake-proof methods were major factors for the devastation. 

“Even though the earthquake was medium-sized, it (was) close to the surface ... and located inland, close to where people live,” said Gayatri Marliyani, an assistant geology professor at Universitas Gadjah Mada, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Marliyani added that the energy was still large enough to cause significant shaking that led to damage and the worst-affected area is close to several known faults.

A fault is a place with a long break in the rock that forms the surface of the earth. When an earthquake occurs on one of these faults, the rock on one side of the fault slips with respect to the other.

“The area probably has the most inland faults compared to the other parts of Java,” said Marliyani.

Marliyani emphases that while some well-known faults are in the area, there are many other active faults that are not well studied.

Many buildings in the region are also not built with quake-proof designs, which further contributed to the damage, said Danny Hilman Natawidjaja, an earthquake geology expert at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences Geotechnology Research Center.

“This makes a quake of this size and depth even more destructive,” he said.

Are earthquakes common in the country?

Indonesia with population of more than 270 million people is frequently struck by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis because of its location on the arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin known as the “Ring of Fire.” 

The area spans some 40,000 kilometres and is where a majority of the world’s earthquakes occur.

Many of Indonesia's earthquakes are minor and cause little to no damage. But there have also been deadly earthquakes.

In February, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake killed at least 25 people and injured more than 460 in West Sumatra province. 

Last year, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake killed more than 100 people and injured nearly 6,500 in West Sulawesi province in January.

A powerful Indian Ocean quake and tsunami in 2004 killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Indonesia.

READ MORE: Death toll from Indonesia quake rises to 268: Officials

Source: AP