Second earthquake hits Sumatra

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The Independent Online

A second powerful earthquake in as many days jolted Southeast Asia and triggered a regional tsunami warning today, damaging hundreds of buildings along Indonesia's western coast and sending panicked residents fleeing inland.

At least nine people were killed and 49 injured in the twin tremors, which caused tall buildings to sway in at least three countries.

Yesterday, an 8.4-magnitude earthquake triggered a small non-destructive tsunami off Indonesia's coastal city of Padang on Sumatra, the island ravaged by the 2004 tsunami disaster. A tsunami warning was issued for wide areas of the region and nations as far away as Africa.

Today's magnitude-7.8 quake rattled the same area of Sumatra and caused extensive damage.

"Many buildings collapsed after this morning's quake," Padang Mayor Fauzi Bahar told El Shinta radio. "We're still trying to find out about victims."

Thousands of frightened people piled in trucks or sought shelter on high ground.

Rafael Abreu, a geologist with the US Geological Survey, said today's quake did not appear to be an aftershock to yesterday'. But the centres of both were close together.

"We are not calling it an aftershock at this point. It's fairly large itself. It seems to be a different earthquake," Abreu said.

"The quake seems to be pretty shallow," he said. "These are the quakes that can produce tsunamis."

Indonesia issued a tsunami warning, lifted it and then reissued it. Australia's Bureau of Meteorology issued a warning that unusual waves could hit Christmas Island early today, but locals said there was no sign of a tsunami about an hour after the predicted time.

"The danger has passed," said Linda Cash, a manager at the Christmas Island Visitors Centre, adding that police were warning people to stay away from beaches. "There was no wave or damage or anything."

The USGS said the new quake was centred about 125 miles from the Sumatran city of Bengkulu. It occurred at a shallow depth of about six miles and struck at 6.49am local time.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii warned today's quake had the potential to generate a destructive regional tsunami along coasts within 600 miles)of the epicentre. It advised authorities to take immediate action to evacuate coastal areas.

After yesterday's quake, frightened people fled from their homes and ran inland, fearing a repeat of the 2004 earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Sumatra that struck a dozen nations around the Indian Ocean. That disaster killing an estimated 230,000 people in a dozen nations, most of them in Aceh province on Sumatra.

Death tolls released by several agencies ranged from five to nine. Rustam Pakaya, the chief of Health Crisis Centre, gave the latter figure, which was based on information gathered from local hospitals, clinics and regional health offices. He said at least 49 people were injured.

The first quake was felt in at least four countries, with tall buildings swaying in cities up to 1,200 miles away. It was followed by a series of strong aftershocks, further rattling residents.

Sensitive to the 2004 tsunami disaster, governments issued alerts as far away as Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa, telling people to leave beaches. People in Mombasa, Kenya, crowded into buses after hearing the warning over the radio.

Thailand's National Disaster Warning Centre sent mobile phone text messages alerting hundreds of officials in six southern provinces, and authorities also were told to prepare in India's remote Andaman and Nicobar islands.

Sri Lankans were told to move at least 200 yards inland.

Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago, is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location on the Ring of Fire, an arc of volcanos and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.

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