Up to 2,000 feared dead in Indonesian quake

Indonesia's VP says as many as 2,000 people may have died when an earthquake measuring 8.7 struck off northwestern shore Monday.

Indonesia's vice president says between 1,000 and 2,000 people may have died when an 8.7-magnitude earthquake rattled northwestern Indonesia late Monday, three months after a similar quake caused a devastating tsunami.

Earlier, police officials had said at least 300 people died on Nias island when the earthquake struck just after 11 p.m. local time, as people were sleeping.

But Vice President Jusuf Kalla told reporters that he expects as many as 2,000 fatalities, based on the damage to the buildings on Nisa.

For example, about 70 per cent of the homes and buildings in the town of Gunungsitoli on Nias had collapsed, killing and trapping scores of people in the region known for its spectacular surfing.

Adding to the chaos, a huge fire was raging in Gunungsitoli as survivors dealt with aftershocks every half hour, witnesses told international media agencies.

Tsunami alerts were issued in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Japan, Thailand and Malaysia as news of the earthquake spread throughout the countries rimming the Indian Ocean.

They were gradually lifted as only a small amount of wave action was observed in the hours after the quake. Even that was directed in a southern direction, away from the areas devastated by the Dec. 26 tsunami.

News footage from Indonesia showed people fleeing coastal areas in cars, in buses and on foot.

Jan Egeland, the United Nations' emergency relief co-ordinator, said it will likely be morning before more precise information is available on damage and injuries.

"The hard-hit population of western Sumatra have been again struck by a very large earthquake," he told a news conference at UN headquarters.

Egeland said reports from Nias are indicating that buildings that did not collapse when the tsunami hit three months ago crumbled this time.

As soon as there is enough light, helicopters will survey islands within 50 kilometres of the epicentre about 1,400 kilometres north of Jakarta off the island of Sumatra in the Andaman Sea.

Waverly Person, a spokesman for the U.S. Geological Survey, told CBC News that although there was significant shaking in Banda Aceh, there were no reports of a tsunami coming ashore on Indonesia's islands.

"If [a tsunami] was going to happen it would have hit by now," he said.

The Dec. 26 quake, which measure 9.0 in magnitude, resulted in a tsunami that killed an estimated 200,000 people and left at least 1.5 million homeless.