Indonesia Fault Line Quakes Nearly 20 Times This Month

Chris Brummitt in Jakarta, Indonesia
Associated Press
February 26, 2008

The fault line that spawned the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami has ruptured nearly 20 times this month, causing three strong earthquakes.

The activity shows the stress the seam is under and could be a harbinger of worse to come, scientists warn.

Kerry Sieh, from the California Institute of Technology, has studied the fault for more than ten years. He likened it to a length of rope in an imaginary tug of war between a group of men and an elephant.

"One by one, two by two, the men are getting worn out and are letting go of the rope. That puts more stress on each of the remaining men," he wrote in an e-mail Tuesday.

"Who knows which one will let go next, or whether they will let go all at once?"

Sieh and other scientists using Global Positioning System transmitters to measure the uplift of the quakes say another massive temblor sometime in the next hundred years or so is likely, but they cannot predict exactly when that will occur.

(Related Article: The Next Big One—Earthquake Technology from National Geographic Magazine [April 2006])

"Nothing New"

The fault line is the boundary between the Eurasian and Pacific tectonic plates that have been pushing against each other for millions of years, causing huge pressure to build up. It runs the length of the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) offshore.

The steady stream of earthquakes it has produced this month do not seem to be alarming residents much. Witnesses say some have prompted people to flee swaying homes, but few are heeding or are aware of the tsunami warnings that routinely accompany the big jolts.

"People did not really care because such a tremor is nothing new," Erwin, a resident in the coastal town of Padang, said minutes after a powerful quake early Tuesday.

"It was just like the one in the afternoon," said Erwin, who, like many Indonesians, goes by a single name.

Continued on Next Page >>


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