Jakarta: A tsunami watch was issued for countries across the Indian Ocean after a large 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 crying. Others screamed “God as great” as they poured from their homes.
The US Geological Survey said the 8.7-magnitude quake was centered 20 miles (33 kilometers) beneath the ocean floor around 269 miles (434 kilometers) from Aceh’s provincial capital.
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.
Earthquake and tsunami experts say that the waves are likely to be more than 6 metres high. A tsunami watch means there is the potential for a tsunami, not that one is imminent.
Said, an official at Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency who goes by only one name, said a tsunami warning has been issued for cities all along the coast of Sumatra island. Residents in Banda Aceh are already moving to higher ground.
There was chaos in the streets, with fierce shaking continuing for nearly four minutes.
“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.
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.
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.
Tremors were also felt in Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Patna, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Cuttack, Bhubaneshwar and several other cities on the eastern coast of India. India has also issued tsunami warning for coastal regions of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Andaman and Nicobar Islands following the earthquake.
The Chennai port has been shut down due to tsunami alert. National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams have already been rushed to Andaman and Nicobar Islands, coastal regions of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Indonesia straddles a series of fault lines that makes the vast island nation prone to volcanic and seismic activity.
A giant 9.1-magnitude quake off the country on Dec. 26, 2004, triggered a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed 230,000 people, nearly three quarter of them in Aceh.