Banda Aceh/Bangkok, Apr 11: A massive earthquake of 8.7 magnitude hit waters off Indonesia triggering tsunami fears across the Indian Ocean nations, including India, reviving memories of the 2004 devastation that had claimed tens of thousands of lives in the region.
The quake struck off Indonesia's Sumatra Island, US and Indonesian monitors reported, prompting an Indian Ocean-wide tsunami alert.
The tremors were felt far and wide in southern and eastern parts of India, Sri Lanka, Australia, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. The quake's magnitude was 8.7 on Richter scale and it struck 431-kilometres off the Indonesian city of Banda Aceh.
In India, tremors were felt in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andaman and Nicobar islands, Assam and West Bengal.
Banda Aceh in Indonesia was near the epicentre of a devastating 9.1-magnitude quake in 2004 that triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean, which killed 220,000 people, including 170,000 in Aceh.
Residents in Banda Aceh reported the ground shaking violently. The ground shook for nearly five minutes with telephone connections going down briefly. Terrified people left their dwellings and ran for cover.
People were trying to leave affected area, with whatever modes of transport available. Traffic jams were seen everywhere.
US monitors issued an Indian Ocean-wide tsunami watch but said it was not yet certain a giant wave had been generated.
“Earthquakes of this size have the potential to generate a widespread destructive tsunami that can affect coastlines across the entire Indian Ocean basin,” the US Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.
With tremors felt in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Sri Lanka tsunami warnings have been issued. A big tremor was felt in the island resort of Phuket in Thailand. Phone lines to the area are jammed. At least one luxury hotel was evacuating people to higher ground.
Savita Sriram, who is in Phuket with her family, said she was on her way to a swimming pool at a club when she saw people running out as the strong tremor had caused a lot of water to fall off the pool. “apparently the pool shook so hard that a lot of water sloshed out” she told PTI via SMS. She said that “everyone is awaiting for tsunami warnings or clearance”.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka issued a tsunami warning across the island and asked residents in the coastal belt move inland. “We advise people to move inland at least a kilometer from the coast”, a disaster management centre official said.
Officials said if the quake in Sumatra triggered a Tsunami, Sri Lanka's southern coastal Dondra should experience it by 1609 IST.
The quake in Indonesia was felt in Sri Lanka as people moved out of buildings around 2.15 local time.
Two thirds of Sri Lanka's coastal belt was devastated by the December 2004 Tsunami which killed over 30,000 people.
The chief secretary of the Andaman and Nicobar administration, Shakti Sinha, said waves 30 cm high have been witnessed in the Campbell Bay which is closer to Indonesia.
He said people there have been asked to come out of their houses as the tsunami alert is still on.
Meanwhile, the control room of the Disaster Management in Port Blair said another tremor has been felt in Sumatra at 4.25 IST.
The Pacific Ocean Tsunami Warning Centre has reported that a tsunami has indeed occured after the severe 8.2 aftershock off Aceh province's coast.
Sea waves rose by 0.15 metre to 1.06 metre in Sabang, Meulaboh, Dart, and Sabang islands of Indonesia.
The report said, the sea level readings incidicate a tsunami was generated. It may already have been destructive along some coasts, it added.
The Tsunami Warning Centre said, based on these data, the threat continues for all coastal areas of the Indian Ocean.
For those areas, where no major waves have occured for at least two after after the estimated arrival time or damaging waves have not occured for at least two hours, the local authorities can assume that the threat has passed, the warning centre said.
Thailand's disaster centre today put six provinces along the Andaman coastline on possible tsunami watch after a 8.7 magnitude earthquake hit off Indonesia's Aceh province.
In the popular tourist resort island of Phuket, hotels ferried its residents to higher ground as a precaution. Sriram, who is in Phuket with her family, told PTI that strong tremors felt in the island.
She said she was on her way to a swimming pool at a local club where she saw people running out.
She said the island was dotted with signs leading directions to higher grounds in case of a tsunami. “if there is tsunami danger, the siren alerts would go off,” she said.
National Disaster Center's director Somsak Kaosuwan said “We are still monitoring the situation but we've told the Andaman provinces to be on alert,” he said.
The US Geological Survey said the epicentre at a depth of 33 kms was at the west coast of northern Sumatra in Indonesia A tsunami watch was issued for countries ranging from Indonesia to Thailand, India, Australia, the Seychelles, Somalia, Oman and South Africa, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.
In Thailand residents of Ranong, Phang Nga, Phuket, Satun, Krabi and Trang have been told to clear the coastal areas.
The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand has said the Egat dams remain strong following the strong earthquake.
Six teams of National Disaster Response Force have been kept in readiness at Chennai and an equal number moved to Hindon airport to deal with any eventuality in the wake of today's massive temblors off the western coast of northern Sumatra in Indonesia.
A Home Ministry spokesperson said the Andaman Administration has moved people from Nicobar side to safer areas as a precautionary measure.
The ministry has asked the Chief Secretaries of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and all eastern coastal states to issue an alert, the spokesperson said in a statement.
The precautionary drill was initiated in the wake of an alert issued by the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) following an earthquake of 8.5 magnitude on the Richter scale at 1409 hrs (IST) in Indonesia today. It was revised from the earlier figure of 8.9 magnitude. This was followed by another temblor.
The eastern coastal states have been asked to advise fishermen not to venture out in the sea, the spokesperson said.
Earlier in the day, Union Home Secretary R K Singh reviewed the situation in the aftermath of the quake.
After the meeting, Singh said there was no cause for panic along India's coastline and the Government is ready to deal with any eventuality.
After speaking to Chief Secretaries of Odisha and Tamil Nadu, Singh said as of now there are no signs of tsunami.
In the meantime, NDRF teams have been deployed and kept on standby as a precautionary measure.
“Six teams have moved to Chennai. In addition, six more teams have moved to Hindon airport. Airlift will be organised by the Air Force in case these teams need to be flown,” the spokesperson said.