Authorities in Indonesia Wednesday declared a two-week state of emergency after a strong earthquake hit the Aceh province, on the northern tip of Sumatra island, killing at least 97 people.
Local officials said hundreds more were injured in Pidie Jaya, the district closest to the epicenter of the 6.5 magnitude quake. The town of Meureudu was among the hardest hit areas.
Earthquake epicenter, near Reuleut, Sumatra, Indonesia
Volunteers made their way to earthquake-hit areas to rush people to hospitals, which are now overloaded with patients.
Authorities said more than 500 people were injured, many seriously and that there was an urgent need for emergency supplies and excavation equipment to move heavy debris.
Family members gather around the bodies of earthquake victims in Pidie Jaya, Aceh province, Indonesia, Dec. 7, 2016.
“We are now focusing on searching for victims and possible survivors,” said Sutopo Nugroho, a spokesman from Indonesia’s national disaster management agency.
According to Nugroho, at least 1,000 workers, including officers, military personnel, and volunteers, were deployed to help victims.
The quake leveled dozens of buildings, including mosques, stores and homes. Rescue crews, some of them working with heavy equipment, were searching through rubble for people who may be trapped underneath.
"The earthquake was felt strongly and many people panicked and rushed outdoors as houses collapsed," Nugroho said, adding that the number of victims is expected to rise as volunteers and hundreds of army personnel continue their search efforts.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a statement that it has deployed an assessment team from Banda Aceh to heavily damaged areas.
The IOM said the two staffers have worked closely with the provincial disaster management agency known as BPBD for three years in preparation for an event like this.
Paul Dillon, the IOM Indonesia spokesman, told VOA that heavy rain in the affected area is “adding to the general misery of the situation.”
Dillon said the rescue efforts continue but added that Indonesia has significant experience with natural disaster response.
"The areas that were hit have, for the past three years, been part of an IOM [and government] Disaster Risk Reduction project designed to anticipate these sorts of events," he said. "So there's generally a high level of awareness and ability to manage.”
The IOM’s team arrived late Wednesday to help the government relief response. Dillon said the team saw vehicles loaded with supplies making their way to affected regions.
“The mosques are full of survivors; people who either cannot or will not return to their homes tonight," he added. "There are many small villages in remote areas that have not ‘checked in,’ so the situation in the back country is a little opaque. Roads are intact in most areas, but there's damage to bridges and other infrastructure that'll take time and money to fix [or] replace.”
People survey the damage after dozens of buildings collapsed following an earthquake in Ule Glee, Pidie Jaya in the northern province of Aceh, Indonesia, Dec. 7, 2016.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centered near the town of Reuleut. Indonesia's Climate, Meteorology and Geophysics Agency said the quake did not generate a tsunami.
Indonesia is located in an area of the world prone to earthquakes. A 2004 quake off Sumatra island triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 in Indonesia and other countries.
The threat of a repeat of that disaster was on the minds of some of those who felt Wednesday's earthquake.
"It was very bad; the tremors felt even stronger than 2004 earthquake," Musman Aziz, a Meureudu resident, told the Associated Press.
Andy Lala of VOA's Indonesian Service contributed reporting.
Hospital workers and family members carry a woman injured in an earthquake at a hospital in Pidie, Aceh province, Indonesia, Dec. 7, 2016.