JAKARTA: A powerful and shallow earthquake struck Wednesday (Mar 2) off Indonesia’s Sumatra island, sending panicked residents rushing from their homes in a region hit hard by quakes and tsunamis in the past.
There has been no information on any deaths from the earthquake, an official with the country’s search and rescue agency told Reuters.
“Up until now, there is no information about deaths,” said Heronimus Guru, the agency’s deputy head of operations. Guru had earlier told Reuters the earthquake had killed some people, but that he did not know how many.
The epicentre was 808 km (502 miles) southwest of Padang, USGS said. It was 24km deep. USGS originally put the magnitude at 8.2, and then 8.1, before lowering it to 7.9 then 7.8.
However the USGS said there was a “low likelihood of casualties and damage,” and added that there was “likely to be no affected structures in this region”.
By 9.15pm, Indonesia’s met agency had issued a tsunami warning and about an hour later, local media reported that it was lifted.
However the head of Indonesia’s met agency Andi Eka Sakya told media at 10.30pm that the alert was not officially lifted, although the possibility of a tsunami at that point was slim.
“The earthquake was felt in a big part of West Sumatra cities and Mentawai,” said West Sumatra governor Irwan Prayitno to Kompas TV.
“We continue to remind residents to be careful and be on standby, but at this point, the possibility of a tsunami is smaller as compared to much earlier, about an hour ago when the quake first occurred.”
Almost 1,000 Mentawai residents were at a tsunami evacuation shelter as of 9.30pm Singapore time.
“So far there have been no reports (of damage) yet,” Andi Eka Sakya, an official of the National Meteorological Agency, told TVOne. “In Bengkulu (on southwest coast of Sumatra) they didn’t feel it at all.”
The quake was felt strongly in Padang in West Sumatra for a few seconds, a AFP journalist in the city said. People ran out of their homes to higher ground. Traffic ground to a halt and there was a sense of panic on the streets, the journalist added.
President Joko Widodo was staying overnight at a hotel in Medan in North Sumatra and was safe, palace officials said. A Medan resident said he didn’t feel the quake.
TREMORS FELT IN SINGAPORE, MALAYSIA
Residents in Singapore reported feeling tremors in areas including Bishan, East Coast, Sengkang and Ang Mo Kio. However, Singapore is unlikely to be affected by the earthquake, said the National Environment Agency.
A Katong resident, who only wanted to be identified as Ms Amanda, said she felt tremors from her 12th-floor apartment shortly after the quake struck, at 9.05pm.
“I was lying down reading a book when suddenly I felt like the ground was moving side to side. I thought I was feeling tired, but my mum saw our lamps outside shaking, so we decided to evacuate,” she told Channel NewsAsia.
Amanda said there were about 15 residents gathered downstairs of her condominium. Her family of six stayed at the ground floor for about half an hour.
“We live quite high up, and we have two dining lamps which won’t shake if it’s just (strong) wind. It’s happened before during an earthquake as well,” said Ms Amanda of her family’s decision to self-evacuate from their apartment.
They eventually returned to their home at 9.30pm. “We just wanted to be safe first. We headed downstairs and saw other people, so that confirmed it,” she said.
THAILAND, AUSTRALIA CANCEL TSUNAMI WARNINGS
Malaysian authorities have issued a statement saying that there was “no tsunami threat”, despite tremors being felt in some areas in Selangor and Johor.
Thailand’s National Disaster Warning Centre had urged the public to be prepared for potential tsunamis, with the quake hitting 1,436km off the Thai resort island of Phuket, but cancelled it later.
Australia also issued a tsunami warning for Western Australia and Christmas and Cocos Islands, but lifted the advisory for its Western coast.
Indonesia, especially Aceh, was badly hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. The country straddles the so-called “Pacific Ring of Fire”, a highly seismically active zone, where different plates on the earth’s crust meet and create a large number of earthquakes and volcanoes.