Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Powerful Quake off Sumatra Incites Panic

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Powerful Quake off Sumatra Incites Panic

Article excerpt

The Indonesian government said there were no reports of casualties or significant damage from the initial quake on Wednesday, which struck the same area as the 2004 disaster.

Two powerful earthquakes struck off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra on Wednesday, spreading panic among residents and reviving memories of the devastating 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the same area.

There were no reports of casualties or significant damage, and tsunami warnings issued across the area proved to be false alarms.

They were called off hours after they were widely broadcast on television, mobile phones and the Internet. The first earthquake was 434 kilometers, or 269 miles, from the Sumatran city of Banda Aceh, and the second was in roughly the same area.

The first quake, which was measured at 8.6 by the U.S. Geological Survey, was felt across a large area. In addition to Indonesia, tremors were felt in Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

In what ultimately amounted to a test of the region's tsunami warning systems, residents fled coastal areas for higher ground.

In Banda Aceh, at the northern tip of Sumatra, the hurried, spontaneous evacuation came after several minutes of heavy shaking.

The earthquake knocked out electricity and tied up cellphone service, said Edo Iskandar, a 56-year-old driver who said he was drinking coffee at an outdoor restaurant when the earthquake struck in the midafternoon.

"People start running out into the street," he said. "All the people at the food stall, people from shops, houses -- everybody was in the street panicking, running and looking for higher ground."

Television footage showed patients wheeled from hospitals on gurneys and traffic-clogged streets in one direction -- away from the sea. The tsunami siren sounded, Mr. Iskandar said.

In southern Thailand, one witness described a more orderly move to tsunami shelters.

"The evacuation went well, as planned," said Mitree Jongkraijak, who heads a tsunami response team in Baan Nam Khem, a village destroyed by the 2004 tsunami. …

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