11 Apr 2012

Indonesian tsunami warning lifted

A tsunami warning for the Indian Ocean, issued after a massive 8.7 magnitude earthquake off the western coast of Indonesia this morning, has been lifted.

Thousands of people scrambled from their homes and offices in the province of Aceh after the earthquake struck under the sea off the coast of the Aceh province, 308 miles south west of the province’s capital, Banda Aceh.

Striking in the same area as the devastating 2004 tsunami which killed 170,000 people in 14 countries, it prompted the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre to issue a tsunami alert across the Indian Ocean. Alerts were also issued for Sri Lanka, Singapore and India after tremors were felt there, with meteorological officials in Tanzania warning fishermen and vessels to stay away from the waters for fear of a tsunami striking there.

But the danger had passed by the afternoon and the warnings for Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India were lifted, allowing residents to begin returning home. The authorities in the earthquake-affected regions were still establishing details of injuries or casualties.

The first tremors were felt in Indonesia shortly after 8am as the earthquake struck, along a fault line at a depth of 20.5 miles below sea level near the northern tip of Sumatra island.

A series of aftershocks measuring 8.8 were also recorded, the country’s geophysics agency said.

Buildings were reported to have been shaking for four minutes with terrified residents fleeing to safety screaming “God is great” as they jumped into cars and onto the back of motorcycles.

In nearby Thailand, tremors were felt in the popular holiday island of Phuket, forcing officials to close the airport. The Thai National Disaster Prevention Centre ordered residents of coastal areas in Andaman – in Krabi, Ranong, Phangnga,Trang and Satun, as well as Phuket – to move to higher grounds, preparing for evactuation.

In India, hundreds of workers in Banglalore abandoned offices and port authorities shut off the port of Chennai.

The earthquake came hours after Prime Minister David Cameron arrived in the capital, Jakarta, 1,600 miles south-east of the province on a different island, for a south east Asian trade summit.

He said to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono: “Our thoughts should be with those who are affected. Britain of course stands ready to help if help is required. We will stand with you and your government and your people at this time of worry.”

The earthquake was initially reported as a quake of magnitude 8.9 but the US Geological Survey, which documents earthquakes, downgraded it to 8.7.

The devastating 2004 tsunami was one of the worst in living memory. 

At 7.58am local time on 26 December 250km south east of Banda Aceh an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.1 to 9.3, struck 30km below the seafloor, thrusting a 1,200km stretch of the Indian plate up to 20 metres under the Burma plate.

The resulting tsunami killed more than 230,000 people in 14 countries, with waves up to 30m high devastating coastal communities. Indonesia was the hardest-hit country, with 170,000 people killed. A further 35,000 people were believed to have been killed in Sri Lanka, 18,000 in India and more than 8,000 estimated dead in Thailand.

More than 500,000 people were displaced in Indonesia and in Sri Lanka, and there were almost 650,000 refugees in India.