Thu, April 12, 2012
World > Asia-Pacific > Massive quakes hit N Sumatra, Indonesia

Panic over tsunami alert

2012-04-12 02:35:11 GMT2012-04-12 10:35:11(Beijing Time)  China Daily

Women cry on a street in Banda Aceh after a strong earthquake struck off Indonesia on Wednesday. A powerful 8.6-magnitude earthquake and strong aftershocks struck off Indonesia on Wednesday, sending people as far away as southern India scurrying from buildings and raising fears of a disastrous tsunami as in 2004. [Photo/Agencies]

A scientist points at a screen at the German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam that shows the epicenters of an earthquake and its aftershocks off the coast of Indonesia, April 11, 2012. [Photo/Agencies]

Patients are evacuated from a hospital after an earthquake hit the western coast of Sumatra, in Banda Aceh in Aceh province April 11, 2012. [Photo/Agencies]

People gather outside Baiturrahman Mosque after an earthquake hit Banda Aceh April 11, 2012. [Photo/Agencies]

A tsunami watch was issued for countries across the Indian Ocean after a massive earthquake hit waters off Indonesia on Wednesday, triggering widespread panic as residents along coastlines fled to high ground in cars and on the backs of motorcycles.

Some were screamed "God is great" as they poured from their homes. Others, separated from relatives, cried as they ran frantically through the streets.

The US Geological Survey said the 8.6-magnitude quake was centered 3 kilometers beneath the ocean floor around 434 km from Aceh's provincial capital.

The tremor was felt in Singapore, Thailand, Bangladesh, Malaysia and India. High-rise apartments and offices on Malaysia's west coast shook for at least a minute.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said a tsunami watch was in effect 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.

Some countries, including Thailand, India and Sri Lanka, lifted their tsunami warning later on Wednesday.

It will not have a disastrous effect on China in the short term, though the situation must be closely monitored, according to a tsunami monitoring report released by the China National Marine Environmental Forecasting Center on Wednesday.

Fu Cifu, a forecaster in the center, warned Chinese tourists and residents in the affected region to stay in safe areas.

Two Shanghai Airlines flights heading from Shanghai Pudong Airport for Phuket Island, off the southwest coast of Thailand, due to take off at 9:15 pm and 20:15 pm, were cancelled immediately. However, the flights heading for Bangkok were about to take off according to schedule.

"We have a tour group setting off on Thursday, but so far we have not received any notice from the Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administrative Commission. According to our previous experience, the authorities usually release the notice on the second day," said a sales manager, surnamed Gu, at Qiangsheng Travel, adding that the trips to Bangkok have not been affected.

A tsunami watch means there is the potential for a tsunami, not that one is imminent.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told reporters: "There is no tsunami reported so far, but we remain vigilant."

"Our warning system is working well, and I have ordered the national relief team to fly immediately to Aceh to ensure the situation is under control and to take any necessary action," he said.

"Thank God, from what I heard there are neither casualties reported nor major damage in Banda Aceh or other places," he added.

There was chaos in the streets, with fierce shaking continuing for nearly four minutes.

Patients in several cities poured out of hospitals, some with drips still attached to their arms. In some places, electricity was briefly cut.

"It wasn't the strongest quake I've felt," said 22-year-old Tuti Rahmi, while trying to reach her brother by phone.

"But it seemed to last forever," she said. "Hopefully there won't be too much damage."

One hour after the temblor, people were still standing outside their homes and offices, afraid to go back inside.

There were several strong aftershocks.

"I was in the shower on the fifth floor of my hotel," Timbang Pangaribuan told El Shinta radio from the city of Medan. "We all ran out ... We're all standing outside now."

He said one guest was injured when he jumped from the window of his room.

Thailand's National Disaster Warning Center issued an evacuation order to residents in six provinces along the country's west coast, including the popular tourist destinations of Phuket, Krabi and Phang-Nga.

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