03/29/2005, 00.00
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Indonesian Vice President estimates number of victims to reach 2,000

Around 1,000 people are confirmed dead on Nias Island, but government fears death toll might be twice as much.



Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Erni Ginting, a spokeswoman for the for the disaster centre for Aceh and North Sumatra, said this morning that the earthquake that struck yesterday night caused at least 1,000 dead on Nias Island (one of the Mentawai Islands off the western coast of Sumatra).

Tsunami alerts were immediately issued in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia and India, but were cancelled by this morning they. A previous report had estimated the death toll on Nias at more than 300.

Most casualties were reported in the island's main town of Gunungsitoli, which was destroyed by the quake. "It is predicted, and it is still a rough estimate, that the number of the victims [. . .] may be between 1,000 and 2,000," Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla said.

A three-metre seismic wave struck Simeulue Island north of Nias, reaching the town of Sinabang; according to Endang Suwaraya, military commander of Aceh province. Reports indicate that the harbour and the airport were destroyed.

The first rescue teams have already reached Nias. Planes by the Indonesian Red Cross have landed on  the island as well as Medan province carrying food and medical supplies.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will chair a special cabinet meeting to deal with the crisis.

In addition to material destruction, the quake has already had important negative economic repercussions. Asian stock exchanges opened today on a downswing.

Reports on industrial production show output at its lowest for the Tokyo and Seoul bourses. Analysts blame the slump on the investors' reticence to sink money in south-east Asian countries struck by the December 26 tsunami.

However, initial reports indicate that oil refineries and industrial plants in the quake-affected areas were not damaged. 

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