JAKARTA, Indonesia – A powerful earthquake off western Indonesia triggered a small tsunami that killed one farmer, damaged more than 150 homes and sent thousands of residents fleeing to high ground in panic, officials and witnesses said Tuesday.
A group of Australian surfers were hanging out on the back deck of their boat, anchored in a bay off the hardest-hit Mentawai islands, when the 7.7-magnitude temblor hit late Monday.
It generated a 10-foot (three-meter) -high wave that caused them to smash into the vessel parked alongside them, Rick Hallet told Australia’s Nine Network, and before they knew it a fire was ripping through their cabin.
“We threw whatever we could that floated — surfboards, fenders — then we jumped into the water,” he said. “Fortunately, most of us had something to hold on to … and we just washed in the wetlands, and scrambled up the highest trees that we could possibly find and sat up there for an hour and a half.”
Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity due to its location on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire.
The fault that ruptured Monday, running the length of the west coast of Sumatra island, also caused the 9.1-magnitude quake that triggered a monster tsunami in 2004, killing 230,000 people in a dozen countries.
The Mentawai islands, a popular surfing spot 175 miles (280 kilometers) from the coast, are sparsely populated and reports of casualties and damage only started trickling in on Tuesday.
Ade Edward, a disaster management agency official, said the temblor, centered just 13 miles (20 kilometers) beneath the ocean floor, triggered a small tsunami that crashed into the island of Pagai.
One farmer was killed, he said, and with more than 150 homes damaged, some 2,000 people were seeking shelter Tuesday in emergency camps.
Crews from several ships were still unaccounted for in the Indian Ocean, he said.
The quake also jolted towns along Sumatra’s western coast — including Padang, which last year was hit by a deadly 7.6-magninuted tremor that left more than 700 dead — prompting mosques to blare tsunami warnings over their loudspeakers.
“Everyone was running out of their houses,” said Sofyan Alawi, adding that the roads leading to surrounding hills were quickly jammed with thousands of cars and motorcycles.
“We kept looking back to see if a wave was coming,” said 28-year-old resident Ade Syahputra.