Huge earthquakes strike off Indonesia, prompt tsunami warnings (Update 2)

April 11th, 2012 - 6:35 pm ICT by BNO News  

JAKARTA, INDONESIA (BNO NEWS) — Two major earthquakes struck off the west coast of northern Sumatra in Indonesia on Wednesday afternoon, seismologists said, prompting tsunami watches and warnings for countries across the Indian Ocean.

The first earthquake at 2:38 p.m. local time (0838 GMT) had a preliminary magnitude of 8.6 and was centered about 434 kilometers (269 miles) southwest of Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province on the northern tip of Sumatra. It struck about 22.9 kilometers (14.2 miles) deep, making it a shallow earthquake, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

Several hours later, at 4.43 p.m. local time (1047 GMT), a large aftershock with a preliminary magnitude of 8.2 struck about 615 kilometers (382 miles) south-southwest of Banda Aceh at a depth of approximately 16 kilometers (9.9 miles), according to the USGS. It followed several other smaller aftershocks in the 6-range.

It was not immediately known if the earthquakes generated a damaging tsunami, but Indonesia’s seismological agency issued a tsunami warning for local coastlines for both earthquakes. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center did not issue a warning, but issued an Indian Ocean-wide tsunami watch.

“Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated. It may already have been destructive along some coasts,” the center said in a bulletin, adding that the threat continues for all coastal areas of the Indian Ocean. It said a tsunami of 1.06 meter (3.5 feet) relative to normal sea level had been recorded near the Indonesian city of Meulaboh in Aceh.

INDONESIA

At a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron following the first earthquake, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he ordered a disaster relief team to fly to Aceh, where there were reports of some panic but no immediate reports of damage or casualties. He said there was no risk of a major tsunami following the first quake and said the situation is ‘under control’.

MALAYSIA

Officials at the Malaysian Meteorological Department said they had no immediate reports of tsunami waves but a tsunami warning has been issued as a precaution for several states on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, where tremors during the first earthquake lasted for about 5 minutes. “We decided to order an evacuation along the coastal states of Penang, Perlis, Perak, Kedah and Langkawi,” an official said.

SRI LANKA

The National Tsunami Early Warning Center at Sri Lanka’s Department of Meteorology issued a tsunami warning for the island following the first earthquake. “As the earthquake near Sumatra island at 02:08 pm today has generated tsunami that will affect Sri Lanka, those living near and along the Eastern and Southern coastal regions are advised to evacuate to safe places immediately,” the center said in a bulletin.

Indonesia is on the so-called ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’, an arc of fault lines circling the Pacific Basin that is prone to frequent and large earthquakes. On December 26, 2004, one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded struck off the west coast of Sumatra in Indonesia. The 9.1-magnitude earthquake unleashed a deadly tsunami, striking scores of countries in the region, killing at least 227,898 people.

Most recently, on January 11, a powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck about 423 kilometers (262 miles) southwest of Banda Aceh at a depth of about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). Tremors could be felt in Banda Aceh where residents fled from buildings and rushed to higher ground, but no tsunami was generated.

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