Deadly Earthquake Jolts Sumatra, Tsunami Fear Recedes

March 28, 2005

A magnitude 8.7 earthquake struck near the Indonesian island of Sumatra earlier today. The shock initially raised fears that another deadly tsunami could ripple across the Indian Ocean in the wake of killer waves that devastated the region last December.

While those concerns did not materialize, at least 320 people have died and hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed on Nias, an island 75 miles (120 kilometers) off the Sumatran coast, according to government sources.

A. Nainggolan, the deputy police chief of Gunungsitoli, the main town on Nias, described the quake as "massive," the Reuters news service reported.

Elsewhere, the quake knocked out electrical power and sparked panic in Banda Aceh, on the northwestern tip of Sumatra. The city was hit hard by record earthquake and tsunami damage three months ago.

Similar scenes of alarm were reported in other Pacific regions, where the nightmare of the December 26 tsunami that left more than 300,000 dead or missing remains fresh.

In Thailand government officials issued warnings to people in six provinces to flee coastal areas in anticipation that a tsunami might follow today's quake. Thousands are said to have heeded the call, evacuating beaches and shorelines as they fled to higher ground.

As of press time, no casualties had been officially reported there.

In Malayasia fire alarms sounded in hotels and apartment buildings as residents were urged to evacuate buildings, the Associated Press reported.

Jessie Chong lives in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, which is located 330 miles (535 kilometers) from the epicenter of today's quake. Chong told the news agency, "I was getting ready for bed, and suddenly, the room started shaking. … I thought I was hallucinating at first, but then I heard my neighbors screaming and running out."

"Fraternal Twin"

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, today's quake began at 11:09 p.m. local time. Its epicenter was located about 18 miles (29 kilometers) beneath the Indian Ocean and 125 miles (205 kilometers) west of Sibolga, a city on the northwest coast of Sumatra.

Tremors from the quake, which some reported lasted two minutes, were felt in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and as far north as Bangkok, Thailand, the agency said.

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