Sooner or later, citizens of Padang feared they would be next. Sitting on
the same earthquake faultline that triggered the deadly 2004 Asian tsunami, the
Indonesian city of 900,000 on the island of Sumatra is one of the world’s
most vulnerable to seismic activity. Just after 5 p.m. local time on Sept.
30, disaster finally struck when a 7.6-magnitude earthquake jolted Padang,
killing at least 529 people, according to the nation’s Social Affairs
The death toll is expected to climb dramatically. Indonesia’s National
Disaster Management Agency announced on Thursday that some 500 buildings had
collapsed in Padang city alone, with thousands of people still trapped under
that rubble. Hospitals, mosques, schools and hotels tumbled to the ground,
according to witnesses interviewed on Indonesian television. Outlying areas
closer to the earthquake’s epicenter have essentially been cut off by
landslides. With power down and rain pelting the region it’s impossible to
determine yet how badly those districts were affected. But government
officials, including the head of Indonesia’s Health Ministry, expressed
fears that thousands of people may have perished. The Indonesian government
has committed around $10 million to the relief effort, with even the
Vice-President’s jet commandeered to fly in emergency supplies.
Aftershocks continued to jolt the region in the day after the quake, with one measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale striking Thursday morning. With thousands of islands strewn
across a volatile fault zone, Indonesia is often shaken by earthquakes. But
the last few years have proven particularly deadly. The 2004 Boxing Day
tsunami and earthquake claimed 130,000 lives alone in Aceh, the northwestern
tip of Sumatra that is not far from Padang on the western side of the
island. In 2006, an earthquake hit the metropolis of Yogyakarta on the
island of Java, killing more than 5,000 people.
Earlier this year, Padang mayor Fauzi Bahar told Aljazeera television that
he had asked for funds for potential earthquake relief and management given
his city’s precarious position on a tectonic faultline. His request, he
said, was turned down by national authorities. In retrospect, the denial may
look unwise. But Indonesia is a cash-strapped country with many cities
located in unstable geological sites. As Padang digs out from this latest
devastation, other Indonesians are no doubt wondering who will be the next
target of nature’s wrath.
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