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Indonesian Earthquake Kills 2, Damages Homes

A powerful earthquake has struck an area off the Indonesia island of Sulawesi killing at least two people and damaging scores of homes and buildings. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins in Jakarta has more.

The 7.5 magnitude quake struck off the northern coast of Sulawesi island in the early hours of Monday morning awakening frightened residents, many who ran into the streets.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the offshore quake's epicenter was around 135 kilometers from the provincial capital of Gorontalo with a depth of about 21 kilometers beneath the sea.

Setiono, an official with Indonesia's Geological and Meteorological Center said the center monitored the earthquake at a magnitude of 7.7. He says people in the Gorontalo district reported at least one school building had collapsed and dozens of homes were completely destroyed.

Indonesia issued a tsunami warning following the quake but later lifted it after the threat had passed.

Setiono said the center had, so far, recorded 17 after shocks. He says two of the aftershocks were strong, one measuring 6.0 while the other had a magnitude of 5.7 . Setiono says the center will continue to monitor the affected areas.

Last week Indonesia launched a new hi-tech tsunami warning system aimed at detecting potential tsunamis and providing faster warnings to residents to seek higher ground during a tsunami alert.

The system is not expected to be fully operational until 2010.

Indonesia lies on the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire" - an area across the Pacific Basin where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are frequent.

In December 2004, a powerful earthquake off Indonesia's Sumatra island triggered a tsunami that killed over 230,000 people in a dozen Indian Ocean countries, including 160,000 people in Indonesia's Aceh province.

Last year a tsunami off Java island killed around 5,000 people.