AFP/ PTI

Strong 6.8 quake hits off eastern Indonesia, tsunami warning: USGS

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Jakarta, Apr 12 :  A strong 6.8 magnitude earthquake rocked eastern Indonesia Friday, the United States Geological Survey said, triggering a tsunami warning and sending panicked residents fleeing from their homes.

The quake struck at a relatively shallow depth of 17 kilometres off the east coast of Sulawesi island, the USGS said, where a 7.5-magnitude quake-tsunami around the city of Palu killed more than 4,300 people last year.

Indonesia's geophysics agency issued a tsunami warning for coastal communities in Morowali district, but there were not immediate reports of casualties or damage.

But the USGS warned that considerable damage was possible in poorly built or badly designed structures.

The quake hit off the coast of eastern Sulawesi, on the other side of the island from disaster-hit Palu, where residents still felt the tremor despite being hundreds of kilometres away.

"I ran straight outside after the earthquake -- everything was swaying," 29-year-old Palu resident Mahfuzah told AFP.

Thousands in Palu were living in makeshift shelters six months after the late September disaster with at least 170,000 residents of the city and surrounding districts displaced and entire neighbourhoods still in ruins, despite life returning to normal in other areas of the tsunami-struck city.

The force of the quake saw entire neighbourhoods levelled by liquefaction -- a process where the ground starts behaving like a liquid and swallows up the earth like quicksand.

Apart from the damage to tens of thousands of buildings, the disaster destroyed fishing boats, shops and irrigation systems, robbing residents of their income.

Indonesia has said the damage bill in Palu topped $900 million. The World Bank has offered the country up to $1 billion in loans to get the city back on its feet.

Indonesia is one of the most disaster-prone nations on Earth due to its position straddling the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, where tectonic plates collide.

Last year was a particularly tough one, however, with more than 2,500 disasters ranging from a series of deadly earthquakes to killer landslides and volcanic eruptions.

The sprawling archipelago is dotted with more than 100 volcanoes, including one in the middle of the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra islands that erupted in late 2018 and unleashed a tsunami that killed more than 400 people.

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