12:00 AM, December 08, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:56 AM, January 05, 2017

97 dead as earthquake hits western Indonesia

Emergency declared in Aceh province; rescuers scrabble for survivors as hundreds of houses, shops levelled in dawn disaster

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Rescuers scrabbled through the rubble of shattered homes, shops and mosques in search of survivors yesterday after a powerful earthquake struck western Indonesia and killed at least 97 people.

The shallow 6.5-magnitude quake struck Pidie Jaya district in Aceh province at dawn as many in the mainly Muslim region on Sumatra island were preparing for morning prayers.

"So far 97 people have been killed and the number keeps growing," Aceh military chief Tatang Sulaiman told AFP after the army took over responsibility for the search and rescue.

"When we retrieve bodies sometimes there's five, sometimes 10 corpses."

More than 1,000 soldiers and about 900 police have been deployed to the worst-hit areas to set up shelters and evacuation points, he added.

Sutopo Nugroho of Indonesia's national disaster management agency, said a state of emergency had been declared in Aceh.

It was the second time in just over a decade that tragedy had struck the province's east coast, following the 2004 tsunami disaster.

Hundreds of houses and shops were levelled by the quake, leaving countless people homeless and in need of basic supplies like food and water, officials said.

"The electricity is still off. Some places have generators, but there are not many," local disaster agency head Puteh Manaf told AFP.

"If it rains there will be disease."

EVERYTHING WAS DESTROYED

The sole hospital in Pidie Jaya was quickly overwhelmed, with patients treated on the grass out front or sent to neighbouring districts with better facilities.

The district health office chief Said Abdullah said nearly 200 injured had arrived since the quake, but many would not enter the hospital for fear of aftershocks.

"We are treating people outside. We took the beds out because nobody is daring to enter the hospital," he told AFP.

Another regional hospital had suffered serious damage in the quake, along with schools and other key infrastructure, a national disaster agency spokesman said.

In the hard-hit town of Meureudu, terrified residents rushed outside as their homes buckled and crumbled.

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