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Quake kills at least 290 on Indonesian island




Quake kills at least 290 on Indonesian island

'Small' tsunami detected in Indian Ocean after 8.7 temblor


Monday, March 28, 2005 Posted: 5:56 PM EST (2256 GMT)




(CNN) -- A major earthquake struck off the west coast of Indonesia late Monday, killing nearly 300 people, but fears of another tsunami like those that devastated the region in late December faded early Tuesday.


On Nias Island more than 290 people died and hundreds more were reported injured or trapped, said government spokesman Agus Mendrova. Between 500 and 1,000 homes were destroyed, and the island's public market was ablaze, he said.


"We have not heard of any tsunami hitting anywhere," Jan Egeland, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, told CNN from New York nearly six hours after the temblor struck.


Still, Egeland said, the earthquake itself was responsible for dozens of casualties on islands close to the epicenter.


Between 10,000 and 15,000 people ran about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) to hilltops for safety in case of a tsunami, he said.


There was a report of heavy damage on Simeulue Island in Indonesia, said Bernd Schell, head of tsunami operations for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.


Speaking from southern Aceh, Schell said "heavy, heavy shaking" lasted about three minutes.


The USGS said the quake was 30 km deep. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recommended residents within 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) of the epicenter evacuate coastal regions.


The U.S. Geological Survey said no major tsunami has been observed near the epicenter of the earthquake, which was upgraded from a magnitude of 8.2 to 8.7.


Half an hour after the quake, an aftershock of magnitude 6.0 struck the same region, the USGS said. Two hours later, yet another struck, this one 6.7.


The main jolt was located near the coast of northern Sumatra, about 125 miles west northwest of Sibolga, and about 880 miles northwest of Jakarta, Indonesia's capital.


Scientists say the threat of a tsunami striking Indonesia and Thailand may have passed because a wave like the one that hit the region on December 26 would have reached those countries almost immediately. Monday's quake struck at 11:09 a.m. ET (1609 GMT).


Officials in Kuala Lumpur issued an official tsunami warning for the west coast of Malaysia and the east coast of Sumatra. The warning has a six-hour window, and is based on the December earthquake, which struck at 9 a.m. local time and was followed four hours later by the tsunami.


A damaging tsunami is still possible and should be "presumed," said Robert Cessaro of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. The quake may have sent its energy farther south than last year's quake, which measured above 9 and ruptured to the north, he said.


"So all that pressure to the north would have been relieved" by that quake, said Cessaro. "We think this event probably ruptured to the south, with the beam of energy probably propagated to the south toward Mauritius and the Rodrigues."


Few land masses lie to the south, but among them are the Cocos Islands.


About three hours after the quake, a "small" tsunami was measured on the Cocos tide gauge, the USGS said. It did not elaborate.

Coastal evacuations


In Thailand, thousands of people in the six provinces affected by the December 26 tsunami moved to higher ground or 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) inland, the governor of Phang Nga province said.


In India, the government issued a tsunami alert for the coastal areas, as well as the islands of Andaman and the southern state of Chennai, where officials advised residents to move inland at least a third of a mile.


Sri Lanka also issued a warning that the earthquake could spawn a tsunami that would reach Sri Lanka's shores by about 3 a.m. Tuesday (4 p.m. ET Monday) and urged those living in low lying areas to move to higher ground. There was no indication anything had happened by that time.


The quake was centered on the same fault line where the December 26 earthquake launched a tsunami that left more than 300,000 people dead or still listed as missing. (Full story)


"This looks like a fraternal twin of the December 26 earthquake," said Kerry Sieh, a professor of geology at the California Institute of Technology. "It's not a duplicate. It occurred a little bit further south, a couple kilometers further south. But it's the same type of earthquake."


Prass Prawoto, an aid worker in Banda Aceh, which was severely damaged by the December tsunami and quake, said Indonesians moved to higher ground, fearing another massive tsunami. But he said he had not heard of any injuries.


CNN producer Kathy Quiano, watching television reports from Jakarta, said there was widespread panic in Banda Aceh, as residents rushed inland. Electricity and phone service were out in major sections of the city.


A number of traffic accidents occurred as a result, and people were injured, she said, citing local television reports. "People are closely watching for the water that may come in," she said.

U.S. ready to help


The United States is moving into "battle mode" in the wake of the quake, alerting all the U.S. posts in the region and reaching out to aid workers, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.


"We're applying what we've learned from the previous earthquake, so that we can be prepared to be responsive quickly and in a meaningful way," he said.


USGS spokesman Doug Blake said there had been no reports of tsunami activity nearly 90 minutes after the quake struck.


"At this point in time we don't know what type of fault occurred ... and that is critical information we just don't have yet," he said. "It is in the aftershock zone of the December 26 quake. It's a little bit south, but it's on the same fault."


Experts agreed the quake was massive. The U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitude at 8.7; the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said it was 8.5.


"This earthquake has the potential to generate a widely destructive tsunami in the ocean or seas near the earthquake," NOAA said in a statement on its Web site. "Authorities in those regions should be aware of this possibility and take immediate action."


Asked whether evacuations are taking place, U.S. Geological Survey spokesman Don Blakeman said, "I certainly hope so."

A 'great' quake


The quake is considered a "great" earthquake, the largest of seven grades. The grades are very minor, minor, light, moderate, strong, major and great.


Monday's event marked the first time in recorded seismic history -- nearly 100 years -- that two quakes of such size have happened so close together, Schell said.


Only 12 great earthquakes have occurred since 1906, he said.


Tsunamis are distinguished from normal coastal surf by their great length and speed. A single wave in a tsunami series might be 160 kilometers (100 miles) long and race across the ocean at 960 kph (600 mph).


When it approaches a coastline, the wave slows dramatically, but it also rises to great heights because the enormous volume of water piles up in shallow coastal bays.


The December 26 quake -- the strongest in 40 years -- triggered a massive tsunami that devastated coastlines in nearly a dozen nations in Africa and Asia.


CNN's Naurant Prapanya contributed to this report.



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