Thursday, April 12, 2012

Aceh quake rattles Malaysia

People fleeing Banda Aceh after the earthquake yesterday

TSUNAMI ALERT LIFTED: Meteorological Department to continue monitoring

A MASSIVE 8.6-magnitude earthquake hit the Aceh region yesterday, triggering widespread panic and prompting tsunami alerts around the region.

Tremors hit parts of Peninsular Malaysia and even Singapore, following the quake that struck 431km off Banda Aceh, the United States Geological Survey said.

It was followed by an 8.2-magnitude aftershock.

Terrified residents poured into the streets of Banda Aceh, which was devastated by a 9.1-magnitude quake in 2004 that triggered an Indian Ocean tsunami, killing 230,000 people, including 170,000 in Aceh province.

The 4.39pm earthquake was felt as far away as southern India and Thailand as residents reported the tremors on their Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Malaysian Meteorological Department geophysical and tsunami division head Dr Mohd Rozaidi Che Abas said the department had issued a warning to the public to stay away from beaches in Kedah, Perlis, Langkawi, Penang and Perak.

“We will continue to monitor the movement of the tsunami, if any. If necessary, we will issue an evacuation warning,” he said at 6pm yesterday.

The warning was lifted with another advisory at 10pm.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had estimated tsunami-wave arrival times for George Town at 9.11pm yesterday and Port Dickson, 1.43am today.

The centre had also issued an Indian Ocean-wide tsunami watch in effect for Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Australia, Myanmar, Thailand, Maldives, Malaysia, Mauritius, Reunion, Seychelles, Pakistan, Somalia, Oman, Madagascar, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Comores, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Mozambique, Kenya, Crozet Islands, Kerguelen Islands, South Africa and Singapore.

“This bulletin is issued as advice to government agencies. Only national and local government agencies have the authority to make decisions regarding the official state of alert in their area and any action to be taken,” it stated.

The centre said earthquakes of this size could generate a tsunami that could affect coastlines across the entire Indian Ocean basin.

A tsunami is a series of waves and the time between successive waves can be between minutes and one hour.

The Jakarta Globe reported that Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said that there was “no tsunami threat, although we are on alert”.

Indonesian National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the earthquake was not likely to produce a tsunami as in past quakes.

He said the earthquake yesterday had caused the earth to shift horizontally along fault lines in what was called a slip-slide motion.

He added that the 2004 quake triggered a tsunami because the earth’s crust moved vertically in what was called a megathrust motion

“The potentials for a tsunami is not as big as it was in 2004,” he said.

However, he said, tsunami warnings for western Indonesia would stay in effect.

“The tsunami warnings along the western coasts of Aceh and northern Sumatra had lasted for an hour, in West Sumatra, 1½ hours, and in Lampung, between two and 2½ hours.”

Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency issued a tsunami warning for Aceh, western Sumatra, northern Sumatra, Lampung and Bengkulu after the quake was reported.

Residents in Banda Aceh reported the ground shaking violently.

“It began as a mild tremor and then got stronger,” an AFP correspondent said. He said the ground shook for five minutes, and telephone connections went down briefly.

“There are people trying to evacuate the city. Some are praying, and children in a school were panicking as teachers tried to get them out. There are traffic jams everywhere as people try to get away from the coast; many are on motorcycles.”

Live coverage from Metro TV reported power and Internet outages in Banda Aceh.

Between 8.15pm and 8.30pm, signs of calm emerged.

Compared with the 2004 quake, the latest scare coincided with the fast transmission of data and images, resulting in a proliferation of dispatches.

NST reporter Nancy Nais, who was in the Maldives, sent this SMS at 8.30pm: “5.25pm local time. Occupancy rate at the 211-room Bandos Island resort is 95 per cent. Earlier, staff went calling and knocking on all doors. Tsunami alert has been withdrawn, but everyone has been told to stay alert. Coast guards still patrolling.”

Penang’s Batu Feringghi was deserted, with most people making sure they were on higher ground in anticipation of a tsunami.

Hundreds of shoppers ran out of Gurney Plaza and Komtar building after feeling the tremor.

Civil defence personnel asked people to stay away from the seafront promenade.

On the mainland, in Kota Kuala Muda, the settlement worst hit by the tsunami in 2004, most of the 1,000 residents from five villages vacated their homes and assembled at the nearby Dewan Tunku Shafinaz Intan hall.

The National Security Council clarified that it had ordered Kuala Muda residents to stay away from the beach, following satellite images showing people heading for the beach despite the tsunami alert.

Commenting on reports that the residents were ordered to evacuate the area because of a potential tsunami, council director Datuk Mohamed Tajudeen Abdul Wahab said residents had misunderstood its instructions.

The council had ordered the people to move away from the beach, and not evacuate their homes, as there was still a risk of a tsunami occurring along the coasts of Kedah, Perlis, Penang and Perak.

Shukri Ismail, the imam of Taman Permatang Katong near Kuala Muda, said he received information by word of mouth that the residents of Kampung Kepala Jalan, Keda, Tepi Sungai, Hujong Matang, Mata, Masjid and other villages in the area had been ordered to evacuate.

However, he told Bernama that he was not sure if the tsunami siren in Kota Kuala Muda had been sounded.

Read more: Aceh quake rattles Malaysia - Top News - New Straits Times

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