The Indonesian province of Aceh, on the northwest tip of Sumatra, was shaken before dawn Wednesday by a 6.5 magnitude earthquake. As of Thursday, officials say 102 were killed in the quake and more than 600 injured, 136 severely.
The government has declared a two-week state of emergency for the province and thousands are involved in rescue efforts. Sutopo Nugroho, a spokesman for Indonesia’s national disaster agency, said more than 200 shops and homes had been destroyed, as well as more than two dozen mosques. He also said that casualty numbers were likely to rise as rescue efforts went forward, picking through the rubble of homes and business.
“Now our priority is the search and rescue operation. We have to move so fast to save them,” he said, speaking in Jakarta.
Search and rescue efforts will be ongoing for about a week, considered the “golden period” with the highest chances of rescuing people from the rubble.
The earthquake, which occurred at a depth of 8.2 km according to the United State Geological Service, is categorized by experts as “shallow.” The closer an earthquake is to the surface, the more violent the effects.
Initial reports placed the quake’s epicenter undersea, though later assessments moved the center about 19 km southeast of Sigli, a town on the northeastern tip of Sumatra. Many in the region were reminded of the earthquake that preceded a devastating tsunami in 2004. That earthquake — a 9.1, the third-largest earthquake on record — centered off the west coast of Sumatra and triggered a tsunami that killed 170,000 in the province and many thousands more around the Indian ocean basin.
Indonesia President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo visited Aceh on December 8 to hold a meeting with local leaders as well as receive reports from those the government had dispatched immediately after the quake. The region featured a long-running independence insurgency — dubbed the “Aceh Disturbance” by Jakarta — that ended in 2005. The region is a special territory, giving it a greater degree of autonomy.
The northern section of Sumatra is located on what is known as the Burma plate, a minor tectonic plate, that also includes the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. To the west is the massive Indian plate, which is subducting — that is, moving under — the Burma plate. The Sunda Trench, the deepest point in the Indian Ocean, marks the place where the two plates meet.