Quake hits tsunami zone
Fears of a second tsunami catastrophe in just over three months eased within hours, as officials in countries at risk reported their coasts clear of the type of earthquake-spawned waves that ravaged a dozen countries in Asia and Africa on Dec. 26.
Almost all the deaths reported after the 8.7-magnitude quake were on Indonesia's Nias island, a popular surfing spot off Sumatra island's west coast and close to the epicentre. Police were pulling children's bodies out of the rubble of collapsed houses and a fire was reportedly raging in one town.
"It is predicted -- and it's still a rough estimate -- that the numbers of dead may be between 1,000 and 2,000," Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said. He said the estimate was based on an assessment of damage to buildings.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said early today he would fly to the stricken island to assess the damage for himself.
Two people also were killed in Sri Lanka during a panicky evacuation from the coast in a Tamil rebel-held area, authorities said.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake struck about 30 kilometres under the seabed, about 250 kilometres south-southeast of Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province on Sumatra island. It was centred 180 kilometres southeast of December's 9.0-magnitude temblor -- the world's most powerful in 40 years.
Yesterday's wallop, although very powerful, was but a fraction of the earlier quake.
In explosive power, December's quake was equal to 45 million kilograms of TNT; it caused the seabed to spring up as much as 20 metres.
Terrified of a disaster of equal proportions, sirens sounded throughout the region as authorities issued tsunami alerts for six countries after the quake struck at 11:06 p.m. as many people were sleeping.
Women clutching children ran into the darkened streets of Banda Aceh, crying and chanting "Allahu akbar" or God is great. Others grabbed small bags of clothes and fled their tents and homes for higher ground.
Another man rushed instead to the local mosque saying, "Where can I go, you can't outrun a tsunami."
The quake lasted two minutes and briefly cut electricity in Banda Aceh. Thousands poured into the streets, where flickering campfires and motorbike and car headlights provided the only lighting.
People grabbed small bags of clothes as they fled their tents and homes. Many were crying and jumping into cars and onto motorbikes and pedicabs to head for higher ground.
In Ottawa, Sebastien Theberge, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew, said the minister had been briefed on the situation.
"We are in touch with every single head of mission in the region," he said. "So far, there are no reports of Canadian citizens involved in any tragic situations."
At least 15 Canadians were among those who died in the Dec. 26 tsunami; others were listing as missing or unaccounted for.
Theberge said he didn't know how many Canadians may be in the area, as registration at the nearest Canadian Embassy is optional.
In Toronto, Save the Children Canada said in a statement that its local relief workers in Indonesia were safe and continuing their work. The quake woke up its staff in Banda Aceh and many left their homes for higher ground.
"We were all pretty terrified when the quake hit," said Dugal Paschen, one of the Save the Children's staff members in Indonesia. "But it's been quite a few hours since the initial incident with no additional quakes, so I think that the worst may be over."
In Sri Lanka, warning sirens blared along the island country's east coast and President Chandrika Kumara-tunga urged people to evacuate immediately to higher ground.
"It was like reliving the same horror of three months ago," said Fatheena Faleel, who fled her home with her three children after seeing the warning on television.
In Malaysia, residents fled their shaking apartments and hotels.
The quake was felt as far away as Singapore and the Thai capital, Bangkok, more than 700 kilometres from the epicentre.
Nias island was badly hit Dec. 26, when at least 340 residents were killed and 10,000 were left homeless.
The devastation there from yesterday's quake appeared to be far worse.
In the town of Gunungsitoli, about 70 per cent of buildings collapsed in the market district, officials said.
"Hundreds of buildings have been damaged or have collapsed," said Agus Mendrofa, the island's deputy district head. He said at least 296 people had died in Gunungsitoli.
The MISNA missionary news agency in Rome reported that a huge fire was raging early today in Gunungsitoli.
"From the window I see very high flames," MISNA quoted Father Raymond Laia as saying by telephone about three kilometres from the town. "The town is completely destroyed. I repeat, the town is completely destroyed."
A police officer, who identified himself as Nainggolan, said rescuers were trying to pull people out of the rubble, and that many were still panicking because of several aftershocks.
"We are busy now trying to pull people or bodies of children from the collapsed building," said Nainggolan, who like many Indonesians uses only one name. "It is very hard also because there is no power."
"The situation here is really messy," he said. "Aftershocks keep hitting every half hour making thousands of people flee their homes and afraid to go home."