Huge earthquake off Sumatra

29 March 2005 | 12:57 Code : 4858 Geoscience events
A massive 8.7 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra on Monday close to where a quake triggered a tsunami that left nearly 300,000 people dead or missing across Asia, residents and officials said.
A massive 8.7 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra on Monday close to where a quake triggered a tsunami that left nearly 300,000 people dead or missing across Asia, residents and officials said.

The latest quake had the potential to cause a "widely destructive tsunami" and authorities should take "immediate action," including evacuating coastlines within 1000km of the epicentre, the Pacific tsunami warning centre said.

One official said any possible tsunami could be headed towards the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.

"There is going to be a big wave from this," US Geological Survey scientist Susan Hough told Reuters. The tsunami wave probably "will go into Sumatra" and could hit Sri Lanka and Africa, she said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties, but Indonesia's Metro TV quoted a resident on the island of Nias, off western Sumatra, as saying buildings there were damaged.

"Things are quite bad right now," the resident said. "There is much damage. People are running in panic. Many people are also trapped. "

He did not elaborate on what he meant by people were "trapped".

Tens of thousands of people across northern and western Sumatra fled their homes and drove or ran to higher ground, TV and residents said.

Thailand urged people living along parts of its west coast, including tourists on the resort island of Phuket, to evacuate while Malaysia issued a warning to coastal residents.

"About 3000 to 4000 tourists and locals have been evacuated from Patong and Kamala beaches to higher places," Phuket deputy governor Wichai Buapradit told Reuters.

"We've told them to take their valuable belongings and to go to higher places," he added.

Authorities in India's Andaman and Nicobar islands, north of the epicentre, issued a preliminary tsunami warning as did the federal government in New Delhi. Sirens were ringing in the eastern Sri Lankan town of Trincomalee and many coastal areas were evacuated, residents said.

Indonesia's information minister said there were no reports of a tsunami along the coast.

"There is no report of any damage," the Andaman and Nicobar islands' Lieutenant-Governor Ram Kapse told Reuters by telephone. "We have issued an initial warning. If there is any problem, we will evacuate. "

A spokesman for the US Geological Survey told Reuters the quake struck 1416km northwest of the Indonesian capital of Jakarta at 1609 GMT (4.09am today NZT), close to where the 9.0 magnitude quake struck in December.

It was felt as far away as Singapore and the Malaysian coastal city of Penang, jolting people out of their beds just past midnight.

"It felt stronger than on December 26," said Arumugam Gopal, a resident of Penang.

A telephone operator in the Sumatran city of Medan said: "It was very strong. We all ran out of the building."

An NGO official in Banda Aceh, the town worst hit by the December 26 tsunami, sent out a telephone message saying thousands of people fled their homes and headed for higher ground after feeling what he described as "a very damn big earthquake".

US Geological Survey spokesman Don Blakeman said Monday's quake was considered a "great earthquake" because it was larger than a magnitude 8. He said it was an aftershock from December's temblor but was a "very serious earthquake in its own right".

But the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said the quake had the "potential to generate a widely destructive tsunami in the ocean or seas near the earthquake".

"Authorities can assume the danger has passed if no tsunami waves are observed in the region near the epicentre within three hours of the earthquake," it added.

The earthquake caused a small tsunami on the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said.

The Cocos lie to the south of the epicentre of the quake.

"There has been no major tsunami observed near the epicentre," the Tsunami Centre said. "There was however a small tsunami observed on the Cocos tide gauge."

A Tsunami Centre official, Robert Cessaro, of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre told CNN the quake was likely to have directed any tsunami waves to the south in the direction of Mauritius.

He said the massive quake that struck the region on December 26 was now known to have directed most of its energy toward the north and that had relieved the underground stresses in that direction.

The latest quake was believed to have sent its main energy in the opposite direction, toward the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues, he said.

"I think it's very likely that it produced a tsunami but we don't have any information about it because we don't have any water level gauges in that area. But something this size is likely to have produced a tsunami," Cessaro said.

"But because we think the event probably ruptured to the south, the beam of energy, rather than propagating towards the central Indian Ocean, may very well have propagated towards the south, towards Mauritius and Rodrigues," he said.

The US National Weather Service's Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre is based on Hawaii.

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