A massive quake off the west coast of Indonesia sent fears across the country, prompting residents in coastal cities to rush to higher ground. A tsunami that followed a similar quake in 2004 killed nearly 230,000 people, most of them in Indonesia.
The Aceh region, which lost over 170,000 people in the 2004 disaster, was paralyzed with traffic jams soon after the first tremor on Wednesday, measured 8.6 magnitude.
In schools, children were terrified as teachers started an evacuation. Many locals poured from their homes screaming “God is great” as they searched frantically for family members.
“Sirens and Quran recitals from mosques are everywhere,” said a spokesman for the Indonesia’s disaster management agency.
Patients ran out of hospitals, some with drips still attached to their arms.
Timbang Pangaribuan told El Shinta radio a guest of his hotel was injured when he jumped from the window of his room.
“I was in the shower on the fifth floor of my hotel,” said Pangaribuan in the city of Medan. “We all ran out… We’re all standing outside now.”
A strong 8.2 aftershock nearly three hours later sparked a new wave of panic. Electricity and telephone lines were down in several areas. More people fled the coast after the government issued a fresh tsunami warning.
Eventually, the tsunami warning was lifted. The the highest wave which so far has rolled onto the country’s coast is reported to be less than a meter high.
No reports of damage or rise in water levels in Aceh has yet followed.
The first 8.6-magnitude quake was centered about 30 km beneath the ocean floor around 430 km from Aceh province, says the US Geological Survey.
That prompted the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii to issue a tsunami watch for Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Australia, Myanmar, Thailand, the Maldives and other Indian Ocean islands; Malaysia, Pakistan, Somalia, Oman, Iran, Bangladesh, Kenya, South Africa and Singapore.
“Earthquakes of this size have the potential to generate a widespread destructive tsunami that can affect coastlines across the entire Indian Ocean basin,” a warning from the PTWC reads. “Authorities in the region should take appropriate action in response to the possibility.”
In several hours the tsunami watch was lifted, though. A tsunami watch means there is the potential for a tsunami, not that one is imminent.
Tremors from the quakes have been felt in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and southern India. Witnesses said on Twitter that high-rise buildings and offices on Malaysia’s west coast shook for at least a minute. India’s port of Chennai shut after the quake, a local official told Reuters.
Indonesia’s city of Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province on the northern tip of Sumatra, is the closest city to the quake’s epicenter. The city has a population of over 220,000, and is situated some 500 kilometers away from the epicenter. Its port remains open, a local official said. Aceh province was the main victim of the massive 2004 quake and tsunami in the Indian ocean.
Indonesia straddles a series of fault lines that makes the vast island nation prone to volcanic and seismic activity.
In December 2004, a giant 9.1 quake triggered a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed 230,000 people, nearly three quarters of them in Aceh.