Strong Quakes Jolt Indonesia, at Least 22 Dead

A series of powerful earthquakes (search) struck Indonesia's remote Papua (search) province on Friday, killing up to 22 people, injuring up to 600 and destroying hundreds of houses, authorities said.

The quakes, the largest of which was an estimated magnitude 6.8, hit hardest in the town of Nabire, damaging the local airport, a bridge, roads and buildings, said Margiono, a seismologist with the Meteorological and Geophysics Agency in the provincial capital, Jayapura (search).

Margiono, who like many Indonesians uses a single name, said villagers in the area had reported a tsunami, or tidal wave, in the nearby Cendrawasih Bay, but this could not be confirmed.

Police said eight people died, but the state Antara news agency reported that 22 had been killed.

Fauzi, a meteorologist in Jakarta, said up to 600 people were injured and he expects the numbers to rise.

"The Nabire hospital building was badly damaged and many of the injured reportedly are in tents outside," said Fauzi, another official at the geophysics agency.

Nabire is situated on the northern coast of Papua, 2,000 miles northeast of Jakarta. The province, formerly known as Irian Jaya, occupies the western half of New Guinea island.

The quake also struck the nearby towns of Enarotali and Manokwari.

"People are staying in tents. They don't dare go home. They're still afraid of more quakes," Musa Horen, a municipal official in Manokwari was quoted as telling Jakarta's El-Shinta radio.

The quake damaged about 500 houses in the area, but no casualties were reported, he said.

Several jolts were felt throughout the region from 4:05 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. (2:05 p.m. EST to 4:30 p.m. EST Thursday.)

The largest, magnitude 6.9, was centered four miles east of Nabire town and 50 miles deep, according to the local Meteorological and Geophysics Agency. It lasted about 30 seconds and was immediately followed by nine aftershocks.

The U.S. Geological Survey, which tracks earthquakes worldwide, estimated the magnitude at 6.8 and said it was six miles deep. The Hong Kong Observatory put the time at seven minutes later.

Margiono said he believed the slight difference in the reporting of time and magnitude of the quake was due to differences in the calibration of their respective equipment.

An earthquake of magnitude 6 can cause considerable damage if it hits residential areas.

Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago nation, is prone to earthquakes because of its location on the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire" -- volcanic arcs and oceanic trenches partly encircling the Pacific Basin.