At least 54 dead after powerful earthquake hits Aceh province in Indonesia

The shallow 6.4-magnitude quake caused dozens of buildings to collapse

At least 54 dead after powerful earthquake hits Aceh province in Indonesia

Rescuers use heavy machine to search for survivors under the rubble of a collapsed building after an earthquake in Pidie Jaya, Aceh province, Indonesia. Picture by Heri Juanda AP/Press Association Images

At least 54 people have been killed and dozens more are missing after a strong earthquake hit Indonesia's Aceh province.

The US Geological Survey said the shallow 6.4-magnitude quake was centred about 10km north of Reuleut, a town in northern Aceh.

It struck just after 5am local time (10pm Tuesday in the Ireland), causing dozens of buildings to collapse and sending terrified residents running onto the streets.

Indonesia's National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Nugroho said the death toll was expected to rise, as people are believed to be trapped in the debris of collapsed buildings.

He said there was severe damage to more than 200 shops or houses and a hospital.

Some 14 mosques have collapsed.

More than 70 people have been seriously injured, he added.

Experts said the quake was unlikely to trigger a tsunami, but at least five aftershocks were felt in the hours afterwards.

A frantic rescue effort involving dozens of villagers and soldiers is under way in Meureudu, a severely hit town in Pidie Jaya district.

A local health office said at least eight of the dead were children.

TV footage showed rescue workers taking bodies in black bags away from the rubble.

One woman who lives in Pidie Jaya said her husband had grabbed hold of her and carried her out of the house as their children cried.

"It terrified me," Fitri Abidin told Associated Press.

"I was having difficulty breathing or walking. We ran to a nearby hill because our house is near a beach.

"We were afraid a tsunami can come at any time."

In the nearby district of Bireuen, a teacher at an Islamic school died after being hit by falling debris, health worker Achmad Taufiq said.

The region is prone to earthquakes due to its location on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.

In December 2004, a massive earthquake off Sumatra island triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries.