Saturday, April 2, 2011


Indonesia 7.6 Earthquake Triggers Tsunami Alert, Panic in Padang

A strong earthquake of magnitude 7.6 struck off the city of Padang on the coast of Indonesia’s Sumatra island on Wednesday, triggering a tsunami warning and witness reports of house damage and fires.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii issued a tsunami watch for Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Thailand.The tsunami alert was canceled after no significant waves were generated.

The quake was felt around the region, with some high-rise buildings in the city state of Singapore, 275 miles to the northeast, evacuating their staff.

“A number of hotels in Padang have been destroyed,” Indonesian geophysics and meteorology agency tsunami warning head Rahmat Triyono said.

“Up to now we haven’t been able to reach Padang, communications have been cut,” Triyono said.

There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries.

Local news channel Metro TV reported fires amid the wreckage in Padang, a city of 900,000, where panicked residents had run onto the streets as the quake hit. It also reported that the building of the Institute of Health Sciences in Padang collapsed in the quake.

“Hundreds of houses have been damaged along the road. There are some fires, bridges are cut and there is extreme panic here maybe because water pipes are broken and there is flooding in the streets,” said a Reuters witness in the city.

“We have received reports that many house have been destroyed in West Sumatra,” Gagah Prakoso, spokesman for the National Search and Rescue Agency said by phone in Jakarta. “We have deployed teams of rescuers from nearby branches to the location. We are still waiting for more detailed information.”

Large buildings had come down in the earthquake, AFP reported.

The tremor was also felt in Padang Sidempuan, North Sumatra. Hasibuan, a local, told Metro TV that house roofs were shaken strongly. People panicked and ran out of their homes and some people were still out in the street, too scared to go back inside, he said.

In Jambi, residents also felt the quake and evacuated homes and offices.

The head of Jambi’s Geophysics, Climatology and Meteorology Office, Remus L. Tobing, said he did not think the quake had tsunami potential.

Neneng, a resident in Pekanbaru, Riau, told the Jakarta Globe that she felt the quake very strongly.

“I saw the electrical wires shake and the window panes were making noises, the tremor was strong for about two minutes. I ran out of the house and all my neighbors were outside too,” she said.

There was no damage, but Neneng and her neighbors waited for half an hour before they returned to their houses.

Indonesia is situated in a belt of intense seismic activity known as the “Pacific Ring of Fire”.

Padang, the capital of Indonesia’s West Sumatra province, sits on one of the world’s most active fault lines where the Indo-Australia plate grinds against the Eurasia plate to create regular earth tremors and sometimes quakes.

Geologists have long said Padang may one day be destroyed by a huge earthquake because of its location.

“Padang sits right in front of the area with the greatest potential for an 8.9 magnitude earthquake,” said Danny Hilman Natawidjaja, a geologist at the Indonesian Science Institute, in February.

“The entire city could drown” in a tsunami triggered by such a quake, he warned.

Several earthquake-prone parts of the country hold tsunami practice drills, and the national disaster service sends alerts via telephone text messages to subscribers.

But some experts have long said Indonesia needs to do more to reduce the risk of catastrophe.

Padang needed to invest in better infrastructure, including more roads and other escape routes, said Hugh Goyder, a consultant for the United Nations’ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, earlier in the year.

“The road goes parallel to the coast, which means it’s difficult in some areas to get away from the coast,” Goyder said, adding that in one part of the city, the only escape route is a narrow bridge.

A 9.15 magnitude quake, with its epicenter roughly 600 km northwest of Padang, caused the 2004 tsunami which killed 232,000 people in Indonesia’s Aceh province, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, and other countries across the Indian Ocean.

JG, Reuters, AFP, Bloomberg

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