Indonesian Earthquake: 'I thought I was hallucinating at first but then I could hear my neighbours screaming'

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The Independent Online

As the tremors rattled Banda Aceh for an agonising two minutes, thousands of panicked residents began a familiar routine of fleeing the area to high ground.

As the tremors rattled Banda Aceh for an agonising two minutes, thousands of panicked residents began a familiar routine of fleeing the area to high ground.

But for many living in makeshift tents in refugee camps, having lost their homes and families in the Boxing Day disaster, there was simply nowhere to go. Standing on the road outside a camp in the village of Ulee Lheu, one man said: "Where are we going to go? You can't outrun the tsunami."

Wayu, who lost his parents and five relatives three months ago, added: "I just jumped on my motorbike. I really thought there would be another tsunami. As I drove, I was thinking of those relatives I lost."

Panic swept south-west Asia as the biggest aftershock since the Boxing Day earthquake shook the region, prompting fears of a tsunami.

For residents and refugees, it was clear that the regions devastated three months ago remain dangerously vulnerable to further damage. Tirana Hassan, working for Save the Children in Banda Aceh, near the epicentre of the Boxing Day quake, described the fear as the tremors occurred. "There was a lot of movement, people were clearly moving," she said. "After the 26th this was a natural reaction."

The earthquake was felt by thousands of people across Malaysia, where residents fled numerous high-rise apartments and hotels. Speaking from Kuala Lumpur, Jessie Chong said: "I was getting ready for bed, and suddenly, the room started shaking. I thought I was hallucinating at first, but then I heard my neighbours screaming and running out."

Gareth Richards, from Kuala Lumpur, said: "The city was quiet, bedding down for the night. And then came the now familiar feeling. Our tall apartment block started swaying - strong, deliberate trembling. The wooden wind chimes clashed discordantly; glasses on the draining board tinkled; the panicked voices of our neighbours betrayed rising alarm." He added: "Ninety seconds is a very long time in an earthquake. We hid for perhaps half a minute, but to me that seemed to make us more vulnerable. So we grabbed keys, shoes, and ran down the stairs, down 16 storeys."

In Sri Lanka, where as many as 300,000 were killed last December, sirens and loudspeakers roused residents along coastal areas from their sleep to alert them to the tsunami threat. Chandra Fernando, the inspector general of police, said: "We are asking the people to head towards higher ground and the police are on the lookout for dark elements who would love to take advantage of this situation and carry out robberies and break-ins."

For Dominic Nutt, of the Christian Aid charity, who is in Batticaloa on the east coast of Sri Lanka, an area badly affected by the Boxing Day tsunami, the timing was particularly poignant. Hours earlier, he had attended a meeting designed to assess how to train people in case of another tsunami.

Voicing his concerns, he said: "No one has been trained yet. A lot of people are in tents and don't have electricity, TV or radio and so won't know what's going on." But Ravi Prasad, a journalist in Colombo, said: "This time people are more alert and they would move much faster to find higher ground."

In Thailand, also badly hit three months ago, there were comparisons with the Boxing Day tremors. "It felt stronger than on 26 December," Arumugam Gopal said in Penang.

For residents of Mauritius, it appeared to be little more than a waiting game, amid reports that a tsunami would hit. Barwez Seedoolam, in Cap Malheureux, said: "We have had a warning that the sea will be rough for three hours and to stay away."