GUNUNG SITOLI, Indonesia – Indonesians searched through smoldering rubble for survivors on Nias island (search) Tuesday and relatives wept over the bodies of the dead after an 8.7-magnitude earthquake hammered the region, triggering a tsunami scare and killing at least 330 people. Some officials said the death toll could rise as high as 2,000.
U.N. and other relief agencies rushed to ferry aid supplies to the island, which bore the brunt of the quake almost three months to the day after an even bigger temblor nearby sent waves crashing into coastlines around the Indian Ocean's rim, killing at least 174,000 people.
Fears of a second tsunami (search) faded Tuesday when seas failed to rise up in the hours after the overnight quake, but at least 13 aftershocks between magnitudes 5.0 and 6.1 kept nervousness high.
In Gunung Sitoli, the biggest town on the island of some 600,000 people, an Associated Press reporter saw many residents huddled around candles outside their homes, too fearful to spend the night indoors after the aftershocks that set some buildings swaying.
Budi Atmaji Adiputro, a spokesman for Indonesia's Coordinating Agency for National Disaster Relief, said rescuers found 330 bodies in the rubble Tuesday. The toll was expected to rise because more bodies were believed to be trapped in collapsed buildings, he said.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla told the el-Shinta radio station in Jakarta that the death toll could rise to 1,000-2,000, based on the amount of destruction to buildings. Other officials said the dead numbered in the hundreds, not thousands.
From the air, it appeared that about 30 percent of buildings in Gunung Sitoli were destroyed, and the island's second biggest town, Teluk Dalam, suffered significant damage.
An Associated Press Television News cameraman who landed briefly in the city said he saw at least one dead body and about four injured islanders who had yet to receive medical treatment.
At least two fires smoldered in Gunung Sitoli. About 1,000 people gathered in a large field in the town.
A soccer pitch in the town was turned into a makeshift triage center, with about 10 badly injured survivors — some of them lying on wooden doors — awaiting evacuation by relief agency helicopters. People swarmed around U.N. helicopters as they landed to deliver relief supplies.
Elsewhere, a steeple had been knocked off a church on the mainly Christian island.
In Jakarta, the SCTV network showed images from the island, including survivors weeping over the sarong-covered bodies of a child and a middle-aged woman. In another image, two men on a motorbike carried what appeared to be a body wrapped in sarongs.
In other images, survivors used their bare hands to toss away chunks of rubble from a collapsed building as smoke from fires lingered in the air.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (search) sent condolences to the families of the dead and postponed a planned visit Wednesday to Australia, saying he would fly to Nias to assess the damage.
He said Indonesia had been offered help from around the world.
"We welcome and highly appreciate it," he said.
Japan and Australia offered to send troops to Nias to help with the cleanup if Jakarta asks.
U.S. officials also promised rapid assistance.
"We're applying what we've learned from the previous earthquake so that we can be prepared to be responsive quickly and in a meaningful way," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Monday.
The quake damaged Gunung Sitoli's airstrip and prevented all but small planes from landing. The Indonesian military flew reporters over the island to inspect the damage.
Fishing villages dotted along the coastline and inland appeared to be largely unaffected.
The International Organization for Migration said it was sending trucks loaded with water, milk and other food items, as well as medical supplies to the Sumatran port town of Sibolga, where they will be ferried to Gunung Sitoli.
"The army and navy are mobilizing to help," presidential adviser Tahi Bonar Silalahi said.
Alessandra Boas, a member of an Oxfam International team sent to Nias by helicopter, said the aid group was heading further afield by motorcycle.
"The devastation is obvious as soon as you land," she said. "Many of the houses here have collapsed, but it's still too early for us to get a sense of the full scale of this."
Thousands of residents fled to the island's hills and remained there Tuesday.
"It's difficult to get information — all the government officials have run to the hills because they are afraid of a tsunami," presidential envoy T.B. Silalahi said.
The earthquake — which occurred along the same tectonic fault line as the massive 9.0-magnitude temblor that caused the Dec. 26 disaster — triggered panic in several Asian countries when governments issued warnings that another set of deadly waves might be about to hit.
Coastal residents from Indonesia to Thailand to Sri Lanka fled to higher ground when the alarm was raised, before hearing hours later that no tsunami materialized.
In Banda Aceh (search), the city in Indonesia's Aceh province that was hardest-hit by the tsunami, thousands poured into the streets to flee.
"It was horrible, the only thing on my mind was how to get out of the house immediately and save my 3 1/2-month-old baby girl," said 27-year-old Marlina, who only uses one name, like many Indonesians.
In Sri Lanka, warning sirens blared along the nation's east coast and President Chandrika Kumaratunga (search) urged people to evacuate.
"It was like reliving the same horror of three months ago," said Fatheena Faleel, who fled her home with her three children.
By dawn Tuesday, the danger had passed and all tsunami warnings had been withdrawn.
On Nias, a police officer who identified himself as Nainggolan told an Indonesian broadcaster that survivors were trying to pull people from the rubble, but more rescuers and medics were sorely needed.
In the latest aftershock, a magnitude 5.8 temblor hit off Indonesia's coast at 1:22 p.m. and was centered 217 miles south-southeast of Banda Aceh, according to Hong Kong seismologists.
Dave Jenkins, a New Zealand physician who runs the relief agency SurfAid International (search) in western Sumatra, said he feared for about 10,000 people living on the tiny Banyak Islands, close to the epicenter of Monday's quake.
The Dec. 26 disaster also left more than 100,000 missing in 11 countries and rendered 1.5 million homeless.
Seismologists said the epicenter of Monday's earthquake was about 75 miles north of Nias. It was felt as far away as Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.