Tsunami panic after huge quake

An earthquake off Indonesia measuring over eight on the Richter scale triggered tsunami alerts around the Indian Ocean on Monday, causing panic three months after giant waves killed hundreds of thousands in the region.

There were no immediate reports of casualties from the sub-sea quake, which was felt in neighbouring countries and prompted India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Thailand to join Indonesia in issuing alerts.

“An earthquake above seven on the Richter scale can definitely create a tsunami, therefore we have raised a tsunami warning as there is a lot of islands in the area,” said Ramlan, an Indonesian meteorological official.

He said the quake was measured at magnitude 8.0, about 90km south-east of the island of Sinabang, which lies off the southern coast of Indonesia’s Sumatra island. Other measurements put the quake at 8,2.

Sumatra bore the brunt of the December 26 magnitude-nine earthquake that triggered a tsunami which killed more than 273 000 people on shorelines around the Indian Ocean.

Thousands of people fled their homes in panic in Banda Aceh, the city at the northwestern tip of Sumatra, after the three-minute quake struck at about 11.15pm (4.15pm GMT), according to an AFP reporter in the city.

Many headed for higher ground, while police called for calm and mosques broadcast messages saying: “Don’t panic, there is no tsunami.”

It was felt in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, where guests and residents evacuated high-rise hotels and apartments, an AFP correspondent said.

Tremors were also felt in Padang, the capital of neighbouring Sumatra province, where it downed power lines, according to local Metro TV. No telephone contact was immediately possible with Padang or another major city, Medan.

Officials in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand took no chances, issuing warnings and urging citizens living along shorelines to evacuate their homes.

“We have just received an alert ...
and have asked the fishermen down the coast to move towards the interior,” said CV Shanker, a tsunami relief officer in India’s south-eastern Tamil Nadu state.

Thai meteorological department deputy director Lalith Chandrapala said there was no report of any tsunami.

“But, we are asking people living along the coast to leave as a precaution,” Chandrapala said.

“The earthquake is strong enough to issue the warning for people to evacuate as a prevention, particularly in the area affected by the tsunami last time,” Thailand’s deputy chief meteorologist Chalermchai Akekantrong told local television.

People at the famous Patong beach on the tourist island of Phuket were already headed toward higher ground, TV reports said.

Similar scenes were reported in coastal cities and towns across Sumatra.

“I’m trying to find my family, there are all women, they were very scared and ran out of the house,” said one man in Peurada village, in Sumatra’s western Aceh province, who was searching for his relatives on a motorcycle.

“I have put everything I own on the roof,” he added.

Evacuation urged

A United States-run tsunami alert centre urged the evacuation of coastal zones.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre called for “immediate action” against a tidal wave following the quake, which it estimated at 8,5 on the Richter scale. The US Geological Survey (USGS), one of the global leaders in earthquake monitoring, said it was 8,2 on the Richter scale.

“This earthquake has the potential to generate a widely destructive tsunami in the ocean or seas near the earthquake,” said the Hawaii-based centre in a warning bulletin following the latest tremor.

“Authorities in those regions should be aware of this possibility and take immediate action. This action should include evacuation of coasts within 1 000km of the epicentre and close monitoring to determine the need for evacuation further away.”

Don Blakeman, a geophysicist at the USGS, said warnings had been sent to the region following the quake.

“When we had the size and the location, we sent out e-mails, faxes and phone messages to people telling them exactly where and how large the earthquake is,” he said.—AFP

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