A five month-old baby and a woman were among the three killed when a string of powerful earthquakes hit Indonesia.
Five hundred family homes were destroyed by yesterday’s quakes which triggered a tsunami warning that made hundreds of people flee their homes for high ground.
Last night rescue officials said that the death toll could climb because several hard-hit cut-off areas were still to be reached.
The 7.0-magnitude quake struck under the sea floor off the northern coast of Papua in eastern Indonesia at about 3am GMT, the US Geological Survey said. It was followed by a series of strong aftershocks, which fuelled widespread panic.
One of the dead was a five month-old baby boy, who was crushed by rubble when his family’s home collapsed on Yapen, an island closest to the epicentre, said Priyadi Kardono, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency. A 47 year-old woman also was killed, he said, and several people were rushed to hospital in a critical condition. Another person was killed when a 5.3-magnitude quake rattled West Sulawesi province, reports say.
Papua is one of Indonesia's most remote and underdeveloped provinces and police there say it appears to be the worst-hit area.
On Yapen island at least 20 homes had been crushed and that a church had collapsed, Deny Siregar, the island’s chief of police, told the BBC. The powerful tremors caused scores of people to leave their homes and head for higher ground, while some sought safety at a nearby football field, he said.
Village chiefs have reported that all the homes in nine villages along Yapen's southern coast also suffered significant damage. "Some even reported that houses were flattened," said search and rescue official, Sumpeno Yuwono. "If this is true, I think there should be many casualties there."
On the island of Biak, hundreds of people ran out of their homes as the ground started to shake, said resident Yan Pieter Yarangga. Fearing a tsunami, people fled beaches and raced for high ground. "I ran too, I was afraid there would be a second quake," he told Associated Press news service. Many did not head back home until long after tsunami warnings were lifted.
When the electricity was cut, some women and children screamed in terror, said Sgt Junaidi, a local police official. "Many were crying, they were so afraid."
The group of islands has suffered several serious quakes in recent years. In September 2009 more than 1,000 people were killed off Sumatra. And in December 2004, a 9.1-magnitude quake off the coast of Aceh triggered the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed quarter of a million people in 13 countries including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.