Two massive quakes shook Sumatra in Indonesia yesterday, triggering a tsunami alert in 28 countries including India and panic all across the country’s east coast.The tremors, caused by quakes measuring 8.5 and 8.2 on the Richter scale, sent tens of thousands scurrying out of high-rise buildings and houses in several Indian cities from Guwahati and Kolkata to Chennai and Kochi.The first quake off the Indonesian coast at 2.08 pm (IST) swayed buildings in Aceh province, and a while later, the second temblor struck, bringing back memories of the 2004 killer tsunami.
In Chennai, 16 ships were hurriedly asked to leave the port. All cargo handling was stopped. A high alert was announced at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project in Tamil Nadu’s Thirunvelveli district, about 650 km from Chennai. Many parts of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka were shaken.
Kolkata’s Metro operations were shut shortly after the tremors. Men and women rushed out of offices as fear gripped the city, the panic captured on CCTV cameras. Many scampered down several flights of stairs to get on to the roads. Some buildings on Park Street developed cracks. The story was the same in Chennai and Bangalore. “Oh, my God! The tremors lasted 30-35 seconds, and everyone came running out,” said Vishnu Ram of Chennai. “The tsunami alert is scary.” For a long time, people remained on the streets of cities, till panic subsided. Chennai’s Marina beach — one of the world’s longest — was quickly emptied of people by police.
In Kerala, legislator Abdul Khader said he was asleep on the fifth floor of the legislator’s hostel when the ground shook. Like thousands of others, he too fled to safety. Andhra Pradesh CM N Kiran Kumar Reddy directed all nine coastal districts to be on high alert and take help from the army and navy if needed. Panic was also reported from Patna and other places.
The home ministry asked authorities in Andaman and Nicobar Islands and all the east coast states to issue a coastal alert. “They have been asked to advise fishermen not to venture out in the sea,” the ministry said. However, in India, experts quickly ruled out a tsunami threat but fishermen were warned against venturing into the sea. Bruce Presgrave of the US Geological Survey told BBC that yesterday's quake moved the earth horizontally, rather than vertically, and so did not displace large volumes of water.
IAF, navy relief teams on stage one alert
The country yesterday kept its airforce and navy teams ready to address any eventuality in case a tsunami hit coastal states. According to officials, the Indian Air Force (IAF) had rushed two Hercules C-130J transports to Port Blair. Besides, one IL-76 heavy freighter was kept on standby to fly from Chandigarh to Chennai. The IAF had also put on alert its southern command in Thiruvananthapuram and tri-services command in Port Blair. The officials said the Eastern Naval Command in Visakhapatnam is on “stage one alert”, which is the highest degree of alertness. Disaster relief teams of the navy were ready to embark on ships with relief material.
High alert at Tamil Nadu N-plants
A high alert was sounded at Tamil Nadu's Kudankulam and Kalpakkam nuclear plants. Officials at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project in Tirunelveli, said they were on alert after the warning notice from the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services. The situation was similar in Kalpakkam where NPCIL's Madras Atomic Power Station is located.