x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Indonesia lifts tsunami threat after 8.6 earthquake sends region in panic

The 8.6-magnitude earthquake hit 431 kilometres off Sumatra at 2.38pm sending tsunami alerts in the UAE, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Residents of Banda Aceh run shortly after a powerful earthquake hit western coast of Sumatera. A massive earthquake struck off Indonesia's Sumatra island, US and Indonesian monitors reported, prompting an Indian Ocean-wide tsunami alert.
Residents of Banda Aceh run shortly after a powerful earthquake hit western coast of Sumatera. A massive earthquake struck off Indonesia's Sumatra island, US and Indonesian monitors reported, prompting an Indian Ocean-wide tsunami alert.

JAKARTA // A tsunami alert has been lifted in Indonesia following a 8.6-magnitude earthquake off Sumatra island which left residents oh Banda Aceh, the epicentre of a 9.1-magnitude quake in 2004, in panic.

The 8.6-magnitude earthquake hit 431 kilometres off the city at 2.38pm (11.38am UAE), and was followed by another undersea aftershock measured at 8.2, the US Geological Survey said.

Panicky residents poured into the streets of Banda Aceh, the capital of the Aceh province where 170,000 people were killed in the 2004 earthquake. People grabbed their families and raced through crowded streets, with motorbikes and cars jostling for space.

"There are people trying to evacuate, some are praying and children at a school were panicking as teachers tried to get them out," an AFP correspondent in Banda Aceh said.

"There are traffic jams everywhere as people are trying to get away from the coast — many are on motorcycles," he said, adding that telephone connections and electricity were patchy.

Television images showed hundreds gathering at a large mosque in Banda Aceh, many weeping and searching for family members. Women and girls draped head-to-toe in white were praying on mats laid out on the ground.

Small tsunamis hit Indonesia, with waves of up to 80 centimetres in Aceh, but there were no reports of damage or casualties.

The quake and aftershock shook buildings in cities such as Jakarta and Bangkok sent people fleeing from offices and homes.

“They felt the whole building shake and people ran out of their houses,” said Jagannathan Chintamani, a Dubai resident with family in Chennai in India.

Most UAE residents planned to stay in touch with family due to fears that the tremors could continue.

“My family lives very close to the beach and people were scared because everyone was anticipating a tsunami,” said K Kumar, an Indian senior manager at Dubai Ports. “Everyone was on the roads. We are concerned and will keep calling.

“People have felt the impact of the tsunami once and no one can forget that.”

The Pacific tsunami centre said the areas under tsunami watch after yesterday’s shock and aftershock included the UAE, Indonesia, India, Australia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, the Maldives, Malaysia, Mauritius, the Reunion islands, the Seychelles, Oman, Pakistan, Somalia, Madagascar, Iran, Yemen, the Comores, Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, the Crozet Islands, Bangladesh, Kerguelen Islands, South Africa and Singapore.

In the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, nervous crowds gathered on the streets after the strong quake.

"There was a first jolt for five seconds, then a pause and then a really big one. It was really frightening, the whole room was shaking," said 42-year-old tourist Maria Teresa Pizarro from the Philippines.

"You could hear the wood in the furniture cracking, the curtains were moving and the ceiling fan was rattling. I just picked up the children and ran downstairs," she said from the city's seafront Galle Face hotel.

Thailand issued an evacuation order for its Andaman coast, a popular tourist destination, and flights to the tourist island of Phuket were diverted to other airports as passengers and staff were evacuated to higher ground.

A small tsunami measuring 10cm reached the coast but authorities remained on alert.

"We cannot be complacent," said Somsak Khaosuwan, the director of Thailand's National Disaster Warning Centre, noting there had been several powerful aftershocks. "So we are maintaining the warning."

Australian Bonnie Muddle, vacationing in the Thai resort island of Phuket, said people were evacuated from popular tourist areas including Krabi and Phang Nga bay.

"All the local villagers are up on the hill," she said. "Some boats have just left the dock and are anchoring out [which is] supposedly safer."

US seismologists later cancelled the tsunami warning, saying the tremors had generated only small waves and were nowhere near the scale of the disasters that struck Asia in 2004 and Japan last year.

Indonesia cancelled their alert shortly after.

"The tsunami warning has been lifted," Sri Woro Harijono, head of Indonesia's Meteorology and Geophysics Agency, said on Metro TV.

India issued a red high-level tsunami warning for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, located in the Indian Ocean, and lower alerts for several other eastern coastal states, but later downgraded the warning

"The expected period of significant tsunami waves is now over for all threatened Indian coastal areas," said a bulletin from the national tsunami early warning centre in the southern city of Hyderabad.

An official at the centre, S A Kishore, said the highest tsunami warning level issued for the Andaman and Nicobar islands in the Bay of Bengal had been downgraded from red to orange.

The catastrophic tsunami of December 26, 2004, was generated by a 9.2-magnitude earthquake that struck in the ocean about 200 kilometres away from Wednesday's initial quake.

An expert with the British Geological Survey said the tsunamis were small because the quakes' movement was horizontal, not vertical, and caused no drop in the sea floor, which is what triggers tsunamis.

"Although an earthquake of this magnitude has the potential to cause a large tsunami, ... we haven't seen any drop of the sea floor, which is what generates the wave," seismologist Susanne Sargeant said.

Last year, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake caused a tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, killing 19,000 people.

The latest Indonesian earthquakes occurred in a notoriously seismic area, where the Indian tectonic plate descends into the Earth beneath the Eurasian plate.

* With additional reporting by Ramola Talwar Badam in Dubai