JAKARTA, Indonesia (AFP) — At least two people have been found dead and thousands were forced from their homes after a major 7.3-magnitude earthquake hit the remote Maluku islands in eastern Indonesia, an official said Monday.
The shallow quake struck about 165 kilometers (100 miles) south of the town of Ternate in North Maluku province on Sunday evening, according to the US Geological Survey.
In the sparsely populated South Halmahera district, the closest area to the epicenter, around 160 houses collapsed or were damaged when the earthquake struck.
Two women died after being hit by debris, officials said.
The quake also forced traumatized residents to flee to the higher ground.
“More than 2,000 people have been moved,” national disaster mitigation agency spokesman Agus Wibowo told a press conference Monday.
The evacuees are sheltering in several schools and government buildings.
Local disaster agency official Ihsan Subur said most people were still traumatized and refused to return home for fear of another earthquake or a possible tsunami.
Indonesia’s weather agency said at least 65 aftershocks have been recorded between the initial quake and Monday morning.
Government officials have started to distribute food and other relief supplies for the evacuees.
North Maluku province was also hit by a 6.9-magnitude tremor last week but no extensive damage or casualties were reported.
Indonesia experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tectonic plates collide.
Last year, a 7.5-magnitude quake and a subsequent tsunami in Palu on Sulawesi island killed more than 2,200 people, with another thousand declared missing.
On December 26, 2004, a devastating 9.1-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra and triggered a tsunami that killed 220,000 across the Indian Ocean region, including around 170,000 in Indonesia.
© Agence France-Presse