Posted: 16 June 2010 1156 2010 1156 hrs
MANOKWARI, Indonesia : A powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake killed at least two people and damaged hundreds of homes in eastern Indonesia on Wednesday, triggering a tsunami warning and widespread panic.
The victims were crushed when their homes collapsed on Yapen island, close to the epicentre off the northern coast of Papua province, police said.
"Two people, a child and an adult woman, were killed by falling debris of houses," Yapen Island police chief Deny Siregar said.
The quake struck off the southeast coast of Yapen at 12:16 pm (0316 GMT), officials said. It was the second of a series of strong quakes felt across a vast but sparsely populated area including Biak island.
Another person was killed when a 5.3-magnitude quake rattled West Sulawesi province, the Antara news agency reported.
Indonesia's Geophysics and Meteorological Agency issued a tsunami warning for waters off northern Papua but it was lifted an hour later.
"I was driving my car to the office... I felt a huge tremor for about one or two minutes. The car was being flung around," Biak resident Osibyo Wakum said.
He said people rushed out of homes and buildings as the quake rocked the reef-fringed tropical island around lunchtime.
About 500 homes, a church, a power station and government buildings were destroyed or damaged on Yapen, which has a population of about 70,000, police and officials said.
Officials said people were evacuated to higher ground due to fears of a tsunami, but by mid-afternoon they had returned and the situation was normal.
"Residents have returned to their homes and gone back to doing their normal activities," Disaster Management Agency official Slamet Sugiyono said, adding that helicopters and speed boats were being used to survey the damage.
Thousands of people also fled their homes and workplaces in the West Papua provincial capital of Manokwari about 300 kilometres (180 miles) to the northwest of the epicentre.
"There was a swaying movement for about 40 seconds. People ran out of their homes, shouting 'get out, get out, the earth is shaking'," said an AFP correspondent in Manokwari.
Many people remained outside as a series of powerful aftershocks, the strongest with a magnitude of 6.6, shook the region.
Antara reported that the man killed on Sulawesi island was working in a sand mine when the earlier quake struck. About 50 houses were destroyed and a landslide injured several people, local officials said.
The vast Indonesian archipelago stretches from the Pacific to the Indian oceans and straddles major seismic faultlines that trigger thousands of quakes a year.
The 2004 Asian tsunami killed at least 168,000 people in Indonesia alone when the sea surged over the northern tip of Sumatra island after a 9.3-magnitude quake split the seabed to the west.
A 7.6-magnitude quake killed about 1,000 people in the port of Padang, western Sumatra, in September last year.
A 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit northern Sumatra in April but caused no significant damage.
Scientists cannot predict when the next major earthquake will hit Indonesia but they say it is only a matter of time before another catastrophe on the same or even greater scale as 2004 strikes the archipelago again.