Indonesia Quake Buries Children Under Mosque as Toll Rises to 24

Indonesian officials said the death toll from a 6.2-magnitude earthquake that struck Aceh province rose to 24 as they began removing the bodies of as many as 20 children trapped under the rubble of a collapsed mosque.

Landslides caused by yesterday’s temblor cut off two of the three roads leading to Aceh’s Blang Mancung district, slowing rescue efforts, said Ariyanto Ujang, secretary to the Red Cross office in Aceh Tengah regency. At least 140 people were injured and 1,500 buildings damaged in Aceh Tengah, the nation’s disaster management agency said today.

“There’s one mosque that’s been flattened,” Ujang said by telephone. “We estimate that 20 children were in that mosque. So far we’ve retrieved the bodies of two.”

Indonesia’s 18,000 islands are prone to quakes because the nation sits along the Pacific Ocean’s “ring of fire” zone of active volcanoes and tectonic faults. About 170,000 people died or went missing in Aceh after a 9.1-magnitude quake and ensuing tsunami struck the province in 2004. In April last year, an 8.6-magnitude quake in Aceh prompted coastal residents around the Indian ocean to flee to higher ground before tsunami warnings were lifted.

Yesterday’s temblor struck 35 kilometers (22 miles) southwest of Bener Meriah regency at a depth of 10 kilometers, according to the disaster agency.

At least 14 people died in Bener Meriah and 10 in Aceh Tengah, and the number of injured in the two areas rose to 249. Most of the fatalities were caused by collapsing buildings, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman at the disaster management agency, said at a media briefing today.

An airforce Colibri helicopter is being used to search for victims in areas bordering Bener Meriah and Aceh Tengah, Nugroho said, adding that about 1,500 people who had been fighting forest fires in Riau province may also be deployed to help search for survivors.

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