Parts of a building at an Islamic university collapsed in Ambon, the capital of Maluku province. Local disaster official Albert Simaela told The Associated Press a teacher was killed there when parts of the building fell on her.
The national disaster mitigation agency said two other people had been killed and three others injured but authorities are still gathering information about them.
Simaela said a main hospital in Ambon was damaged and patients were evacuated to tents in the hospital’s yard.
The magnitude 6.5 quake was centered 33 kilometers (20.5 miles) northeast of Ambon at a depth of 18 kilometers (11 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said.
Rahmat Triyono, the head of Indonesia’s earthquake and tsunami center, said the inland earthquake did not have the potential to cause a tsunami, but witnesses told television stations that people along coastal areas ran to higher ground in fear one might occur.
Simaela said many people drove to higher ground by motorbike and car, causing traffic congestion in Ambon.
“The temblor was so strong, causing us poured into the streets,” said Musa, an Ambon resident who uses a single name. He said there were no damages or injuries in his neighborhood, but he said people on social media chatted about damage elsewhere in the city.
The national disaster mitigation agency said the quake had caused cracks in a main bridge in Ambon, and pictures released by the agency showed minor damage at Pattimura University in the city. Several houses, universities and local government offices were also damaged.
With a population of around 1.7 million, Maluku is one of Indonesia’s least populous provinces.
Indonesia, home to more than 260 million people, has frequent seismic activity.
Thursday’s earthquake came two days ahead of the first anniversary of the devastating 7.5 magnitude earthquake in Palu on Sulawesi island. The temblor set off a tsunami as well as a phenomenon called liquefaction in which wet soil is collapsed by the shaking. The disaster claimed more than 4,000 lives, many of the victims buried when whole neighborhoods were swallowed in the falling ground.
A powerful Indian Ocean quake and tsunami in 2004 killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Indonesia.