At least five people were killed after a massive 7.3 magnitude earthquake jolted Indonesian island chain at the weekend, according to an official on Wednesday.

The shallow 7.3-magnitude quake hit about 165 kilometres (100 miles) south of the town of Ternate in North Maluku province on Sunday evening, US Geological Survey said.

“Five people died after they were hit by debris,” Agus Wibowo, a spokesman for Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency, said in a statement.

Nearly 1,000 houses have been damaged in the sparsely populated district of South Halmahera, which was closest to the quake’s epicentre, and more than 3,000 people have taken refuge in government buildings and schools over fears of aftershocks.

Local authorities have placed the district under emergency status and have begun establishing public kitchens, as well as distributing aid and tents.

Earlier this month, North Maluku was also hit by a 6.9-magnitude.

Indonesia experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tectonic plates collide.