Major 7.8 magnitude quake strikes south-west of Indonesia; Tremors felt in S'pore

Major 7.8 magnitude quake strikes south-west of Indonesia; Tremors felt in S'pore
Photo: USGS
Published: 9:20 PM, March 2, 2016
Updated: 12:41 AM, March 3, 2016

JAKARTA — A massive quake struck on Wednesday (March 2) off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, a region devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean quake and tsunami, but initial fears of another region-wide disaster faded as tsunami warnings were cancelled.

Indonesian and Australian authorities called off their tsunami alerts within two hours of the 7.8 magnitude tremor, though it was still unclear if the quake had destroyed any buildings or killed people in Sumatra.

A National Search and Rescue Agency official gave an initial report of some deaths, but later withdrew those comments.

"Up until now, there is no information about deaths," said Mr Heronimus Guru, the agency's deputy head of operations.

Any rescue operation will be hampered by the dark, which falls early in the tropical archipelago.

There were no immediate reports of damage, but the shallower a quake, the more dangerous it is. The U.S. Geological Survey originally put the magnitude at 8.2, revising it down to 7.8.

The epicentre was 808km south-west of the coastal city of Padang. It was 24km deep, it said, after first putting its depth at 10km.

"So far there have been no reports (of damage)," Mr Andi Eka Sakya, head of the National Meteorological Agency, told TVOne. "In Bengkulu (in southwest Sumatra) they didn't feel it at all."

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency said a tsunami was unlikely.

"Local governments of the city of Padang and some other areas in west Sumatra have said there was no tsunami and the warning can now be revoked," spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

The USGS said there was a "low likelihood of casualties and damage".

"There are likely to be no affected structures in this region," it added on its website.

The quake was felt strongly in Padang in West Sumatra for a few seconds, a AFP journalist in the city said. People ran out of their homes to higher ground. Traffic ground to a halt and there was a sense of panic on the streets, the journalist said.

President Joko Widodo was staying overnight at a hotel in Medan in North Sumatra and was safe, palace officials said. A Medan resident said he did not feel the quake.

Mr Erwin, a resident of Mentawai, a chain of islands off Sumatra, told Metro TV: "I am at the beach currently looking to see any tsunami sign with my flashlight. There's nothing. A few minutes have passed but nothing, but many people have already evacuated to higher places."

On Pagai, an island off the west coast of Sumatra, resident Jois Zaluchu told Reuters by phone that there were no reports of damage or casualties there.

But Kompas TV said patients at hospitals in Padang were being evacuated. A TVOne reporter said Padang residents were panicking and there were heavy traffic jams.

Ms Marjina, a resident of Sikakap in the Mentawai islands, about 720km from the epicentre, told AP the quake was felt weakly there, but the tsunami warning caused panic among villagers, who ran to higher ground.

Telephone communication was down in the regency of Mentawai,an official with the National Search and Rescue agency told Reuters.

The official said the agency was in contact with Mentawai officials via radio.

Indonesia, especially Aceh, was badly hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.

A 9.15-magnitude quake opened a fault line deep beneath the ocean on Dec 26, 2004, triggering a wave as high as 17.4m that crashed ashore in more than a dozen countries to wipe some communities off the map in seconds.

The disaster killed 126,741 people in Aceh alone.

Indonesia straddles the so-called "Pacific Ring of Fire", a highly seismically active zone, where different plates on the earth's crust meet and create a large number of earthquakes and volcanoes.  


Tremors were felt in Singapore, with the police and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) receiving several calls from the public reporting these tremors. The police advised the public to remain calm. A statement by the National Environment Agency said Singapore is "unlikely to be affected" by the earthquake that struck off Indonesia at 8.49pm.

Ms Lily Tan, 26, who stays in the Boon Keng area was sitting at the dining table with her mother they felt "some swaying from left to right" at about 8.50pm. She told TODAY: "We touched the table and felt it moving too, so we figured that it is a tremor. It was very slight, but it lasted a few seconds."

Some Mediacorp hotline callers reported feeling tremors in areas around Beach Road, Jalan Besar, Crawford Lane and Bayshore Road. 

The police has advised that people who feel the tremors while inside a building should take cover under a sturdy table or furniture, keep away from items made of glass or any hanging object and refrain from using the lift or any naked light in case of a gas leak.

"If they are out in the open, they should minimise their movement and stay away from buildings, street lights and utility wires," said the police advisory. Once the vibrations have stopped, members of the public should still stay away from any exposed electrical cables and hanging glass objects and report any gas leakage. 

Meanwhile, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology issued a marine warning for distant Cocos and Christmas islands in the immediate aftermath of the quake. It did not advise evacuations, but said strong and dangerous currents were possible and people should secure boats and avoid waterfront areas. At 10.08pm, Australia had cancelled its tsunami warning, reported Reuters.

Malaysia's Met Service says tremors were felt in Selangor and Johor but there is no tsunami threat to the country. AGENCIES