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At Least 27 Dead in Second Indonesia Quake - 2004-02-07

The second powerful earthquake in two days has hit Indonesia's easternmost province of Papua. The quake is potentially more damaging than Friday's temblor, which registered 6.9 on the Richter scale. Latest reports say at least 27 people have died and scores have been injured.

The U.S. Geological Survey says that Saturday's earthquake measured 7.1 on the Richter scale, making it stronger than Friday's quake. The USGS also said in its preliminary report that the quake occurred at a substantially shallower depth, increasing the likelihood of both surface damage and tsunamis.

There is only limited information coming out of the area, but initial reports Saturday morning said there had been an unknown number of further deaths. There was no indication of a tsunami.

The epicenter was close to the town to Nabire, on Papua Province's remote northern coast. Nabire was badly damaged by Friday's quake, some two dozen people were killed and hundreds were made homeless.

The United Nations said that communications and electricity networks in the town were already destroyed on Friday, and the airport - a vital element in providing relief to the victims - was so badly damaged that only small, single-engined planes are able to get in and out.

Many of the few roads in the area have also been damaged, hampering the efforts of rescue teams to get out to surrounding districts to assess the damage there.

The Indonesian minister for social affairs, Jusuf Kalla, visited the area Saturday morning, and promised to repair the infrastructure in order to speed aid for the victims.

Papua sits astride the meeting point of two of the plates that make up the earth's crust, and the province is one of the most seismologically active areas in the world.

A tsunami triggered by an earthquake to the west of Nabire in July 1998 killed more than 3,000 people and left 6,000 homeless.

Disaster relief experts said they were hopeful that the loss of life from Saturday's temblor would be limited. Most people had not returned to their homes after Friday's quake, and had taken what precautions they could against the risks of aftershocks.