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Monday, March 28, 2005

CBS 46 Atlanta - Indonesia Earthquake Damages Buildings

CBS 46 Atlanta - Indonesia Earthquake Damages Buildings: "Banda Aceh, Indonesia
Banda Aceh, Indonesia
Indonesia Earthquake Damages Buildings
Mar 28, 2005, 3:40 PM

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) -- A major earthquake struck off the west coast of Indonesia's Sumatra Island late Monday, damaging hundreds of buildings and sending residents fleeing in panic. Officials issued a tsunami warning for as far away as Sri Lanka.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the temblor, which occurred at 11:09 p.m. local time (11:09 a.m. EST), measured a magnitude of 8.2. A later reading put the magnitude at 8.7, said Paul Earle, a USGS research geophysicist.

Tsunami warnings were issued in Thailand, Japan and Sri Lanka, although officials in Thailand later called it off for that country. The only tsunami reported within four hours was a tiny one - less than 4 inches - at the Cocos Islands, 1,400 miles west of Australia, meteorologists in Sydney said.

The worst damage was reported on Nias Island, off the Sumatran coast, close to the epicenter of the earthquake, and dozens may be buried in the rubble, said Agus Mendrofa, deputy district head on the island.

"Hundreds of buildings have been damaged or have collapsed. People who were standing fell over," Mendrofa said. "We're not sure about casualties, but there may be dozens of people buried in the rubble."

U.N. disaster relief coordinator Jan Egeland said there were unconfirmed reports of deaths.

"The hard-hit population of western Sumatra have been again struck by a very large earthquake," Egeland said.

Nias, a renowned surfing spot, was badly hit by the Dec. 26 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that killed at least 175,000 people in 12 Indian Ocean nations and left another 106,000 missing. At least 340 residents of Nias perished and 10,000 were left homeless.

Indonesian officials said the quake's epicenter was 56 miles south of the island of Simeulu, off of Sumatra's western coast, and just north of Nias. It was described by one of the agency's geologists as an aftershock of the devastating Dec. 26 quake.

An aftershock measuring 6.0 was reported in the same region nearly 30 minutes later, the USGS said.

Preliminary indications are that energy from the quake might be directed toward the southwest, said Frank Gonzalez, an oceanographer with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle. He stressed that it was based on "very scanty information" about the epicenter and magnitude.

In Banda Aceh, the Sumatran city hit hardest in December, the quake briefly cut electricity. Thousands poured into the streets to flee low-lying areas.

The West Coast-Alaska tsunami warning center said that if no tsunami waves are observed in the region near the epicenter within three hours, then it is likely that the danger has passed.

"It seems this earthquake did not trigger a tsunami. If it had, the tsunami would have hit the coastline of Sumatra by now," said Prihar Yadi, a scientist with the Indonesia Geophysics Agency. "And if there's no tsunami on the coastline near the epicenter of the quake, there will not be one heading in the other direction."

Sirens blared along Sri Lanka's devastated east coast as the government warned seaside residents to evacuate immediately.

"The government has ordered coastal areas to move to higher ground. We are giving priorities to eastern coast," said Brig. Daya Ratnayake, the military spokesman.

Low-lying coastal areas in Malaysia's northern states also were being evacuated.

In Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said U.S. diplomatic missions in Asia and Africa are in "battle mode" so that they can respond quickly to any contingency.

The International Red Cross in Geneva said their mobile phone systems were down so they haven't been able to talk to anyone on the ground in Indonesia.

At the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which was at the center of U.N. response to the Dec. 26 tsunami, Jamie McGoldrick said, "What's going on is a mobilization of people away from the coast."

But noted that the quake was "a weaker one than before" Dec. 26.

"There have been no reports of a tsunami and no initial reports of damage, but it's very early," said Rob Holden, a Geneva-based technical coordinator for the World Health Organization. "Police are now going around trying to calm people down."

Oceanographer David Burwell of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said the agency was watching water levels "but we don't have any gauges in that area." He said it would be a few hours before officials received any readings.

In Banda Aceh, the quake lasted about two minutes and felt like gentle swaying, like a rocking chair, causing people to feel dizzy. It woke people up and sent them running into the street.

People grabbed small bags of clothes - in many cases likely all the belongings they had left after the disaster - as they fled their tents and homes. Many were crying and jumping into cars and onto motorbikes and pedicabs, heading for higher ground.

Two women wearing prayer shawls and sarongs grabbed a fence and chanted "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great."

"People are still traumatized, still scared, they are running for higher ground," said Feri, a 24-year-old recovery volunteer who goes by one name.

The quake was felt as far away as Malaysia, about 300 miles from the epicenter, sending panicked residents fleeing their apartments and hotels in Kuala Lumpur and Penang after authorities activated fire alarms.

Officials issued a tsunami warning for residents of southern Thai provinces, three months after a tsunami devastated parts of Indonesia and other countries in the region.

The quake occurred at a depth of 18.6 miles, and was centered 125 west-northwest of Sibolga, Sumatra, and 150 miles southwest of Medan, Sumatra, the USGS said.

The depth does not mean a lot for a quake this large, Earle said, calling it a near-surface earthquake and comparable to the one that occurred Dec. 26.

After the Dec. 26 quake, the agency initially recorded the depth of that temblor at six miles. Shallow earthquakes like that generally are more destructive because the seismic energy is closer to the surface and has less distance to travel.

Monday's quake was considered to be at a moderate depth.

Tremors also were felt throughout peninsular Malaysia's west coast, causing thousands of residents to flee high-rise apartment buildings and hotels. There were no immediate reports of any casualties or major damage.

"I was getting ready for bed, and suddenly, the room started shaking," said Kuala Lumpur resident Jessie Chong. "I thought I was hallucinating at first, but then I heard my neighbors screaming and running out."

Police were evacuating many residents from low-lying coastal areas in Malaysia's northern states of Penang and Kedah, said Penang Police Chief Christopher Wan.

"We are on the alert for the possibility of a tsunami within the next few hours," Wan said by telephone. "We're better prepared now compared to last year."

Tremors form the quake could be felt in the Thai capital Bangkok for several minutes beginning at about 11:20 p.m.

Chalermchai Aekkantrong, deputy director of Thailand's meteorological department, told a radio station Monday that officials were asking people near the coast to evacuate, although there were no immediate reports of a tsunami.

NOAA spokesman Greg Romano said the U.S. State Department was passing on warnings to foreign governments about the tsunami danger.

The USGS said the quake occurred on a segment of the same fault line that triggered the magnitude-9 earthquake on Dec. 26, the world's biggest in 40 years.

The Dec. 26 quake triggered a huge tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean at the speed of a passenger jet. More than 1.5 million people were left homeless in 11 countries.

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