Strong quake hits near Indonesia's Aceh

A magnitude-7,5 earthquake struck Indonesia’s Aceh province on Wednesday, killing at least three people, injuring several and sending thousands fleeing their homes and offices in panic, officials and local media said.

The quake struck the province that bore the brunt of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami at 8.08am GMT and was centred 42km south-west of Sinabang, the capital of Simeulue island off Aceh’s west coast, said Suharjono, an official at the National Meteorology and Geophysics Agency.

“Three people were injured [on Simeulue island] with open wounds. There are no casualties so far but a lot of buildings were damaged,” said senior Health Ministry official Rustam Pakaya, adding that people had been evacuated to the hills.

He said the information came from officials at a health clinic nearly four hours’ travel from Sinabang, the island’s only urban centre.

Three bodies have been recovered from the rubble of collapsed houses on Simeulue, said Bobby Satria, head of the local rescue team’s secretariat.

A Reuters witness said strong tremors were felt in Banda Aceh for more than a minute, sending people pouring out on the streets in panic.

“I was scared and ran away as quickly as I could when I felt the tremor,” a resident in Banda Aceh was quoted as saying by Jakarta-based Elshinta radio.
Thousands of residents throughout many cities in Aceh and North Sumatra provinces stayed outdoors for nearly an hour, fearing more destructive aftershocks.

Zainul Tahar, the head of Aceh’s search and rescue office, said that he had earlier spoken with officials at the port authority in Sinabang and was told there was no damage there, despite mass panic.

The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued a tsunami watch for Indonesia but said that a destructive widespread tsunami threat did not exist based on historical earthquake and tsunami data.

The earthquake-triggered Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004 killed about 168 000 people in Aceh, which is located at the northern tip of Sumatra. Indonesia was the nation worst hit by the tsunami.

Simeulue was one of the closest islands to the 2004 quake’s epicentre, but the tsunami killed fewer than 10 people there partly because the nearly 80 000-strong population recognised the receding sea as a sign of disaster and fled.

In 2005, entire villages on Simeulue were destroyed by a quake that killed at least 17 people.

Greece

Meanwhile, an earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5,4 shook southern Greece early on Wednesday, authorities said, but no injuries or damage were reported.

The Athens Geodynamic Institute said the undersea quake occurred at 1.15am (11.15pm GMT) west of the island of Kythira, about 230km south-west of Athens.

Kythira mayor Thodoros Koukoulis said no damage was reported. “The earthquake occurred in the night and not all that many people noticed it,” he told state NET television.

An institute spokesperson said the earthquake was caused by the same fault responsible for two strong quakes last week off the nearby city of Kalamata. The magnitud-6,5 and -6,4 temblors on February 14 were felt as far away as Egypt, but caused only minor damage and no injuries.

Greece is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone regions. In 1999, a 5,9-magnitude quake near Athens killed 143 people and left thousands more homeless.—Reuters, Sapa-AP, Sapa-dpa, AFP

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