The earthquake that has just devastated the Indonesian island of Sumatra was a separate event from the earlier Pacific tsunami that hit Samoa (see yesterday’s blog) though some experts believe the Samoan event may have brought the Sumatran quake forward by a few days.
At least 464 people have been killed on Sumatra, though an official at Indonesia’s disaster centre predicted the death toll could eventually run into thousands. The initial shock came beneath the sea, 50 miles north-west of the city of Padang. An eye-witness said many concrete buildings had collapsed and that fires were burning in the ruins.
Indonesia is in the Pacific’s “Ring of Fire”, the most seismically active region on earth, which suffers up to 7,000 earthquakes a year. Five thousand people were killed by a quake in Yogyakarta in 2006, while 170,000 Indonesians perished in the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004.
The country has also suffered some of the world’s most notorious volcanic eruptions such as Tambora in 1815, and Krakatoa in 1883. The most powerful of all, though, struck Sumatra about 74,000 years ago, when the Toba eruption and the volcanic winter that followed wiped out 99 per cent of the human race. See A Disastrous History of the World.