Tsunami that never was

Apr 12, 2012, 08:53 IST | Agencies

Millions breathe sigh of relief after tsunami alert is lifted, following double quake in Indonesia that sparked fears of a repeat of the 2004 catastrophe

Panic spread across Indonesia yesterday after tsunami warnings were issued following two massive earthquakes off its coast during a visit there by Britain Prime Minister David Cameron.

Higher ground
Thousands of people in Aceh — 270 miles from the epicentre of the first 8.7 magnitude quake — fled to the hills fearing a repeat of the deadly 2004 Boxing Day disaster which devastated the province. In the main city of Banda Aceh, terrified residents screamed ‘God is great!’ as they jumped into cars and the backs of motorcycles, clogging streets as they fled to high ground.

Run to the hills: Indonesian officegoers run outside as building started to shake during the double earthquake. (above), Sri Lankans flee their homes after a tsunami warning was issued. Pics/AFP

Buildings shook for four minutes and there were reports of people jumping from windows in a desperate attempt to escape. Then, four hours later, a massive aftershock — with a similarly huge magnitude of 8.2 — struck only 110 miles further out to sea, unleashing even more panic. A tsunami alert was issued for other countries across the Indian Ocean, including India, Sri Lanka, Australia, Burma, Thailand, the Maldives and other Indian Ocean islands, Malaysia, Pakistan, Somalia, Oman, Iran, Bangladesh, Kenya, South Africa and Singapore.

It was later lifted for these countries and Indonesia despite three-foot-high waves hitting Sumatra. There are fears of a repeat of the 9.1-magnitude quake seven years go that triggered a tsunami that killed 2,30,000 people. Nearly three quarters lived in Aceh, which is on the Sumatra island.
The first quake, which was centred 20 miles beneath the ocean floor, failed to trigger a fatal wave.

New fears arose following an aftershock, which was centred 10 miles beneath the ocean around 380 miles from the provincial capital, Banda Aceh. Roger Musson, seismologist at the British geological survey who has studied Sumatra’s fault lines, said the earthquake was not a thrust quake, which causes the sea bed to flip up.

“When I first saw this was an 8.7 near Sumatra, I was fearing the worst,” Musson said. “But as soon as I discovered what type of earthquake it was, then I felt a lot better.” Cameron is visiting the country’s capital, Jakarta. He said, “Our thoughts should be with those who are affected. Britain of course stands ready to help, if help is required.” President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said, “The situation is under control. It is a very different situation from 2004.”

Quakes that shook the world
May 22, 1960, Chile: An earthquake of 9.5 struck Santiago. Some 5,000 people were killed and 2 million were left homeless.
March 28, 1964, Alaska: An earthquake and ensuing tsunami killed 125 people.
Dec. 26, 2004, Indonesia: A magnitude of 9.1 quake struck off the coast of Aceh province, setting off a tsunami that killed more than 2,26,000 people in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, India and nine other countries.
March 11, 2011, Japan: An 9.0 magnitude quake struck Japan, causing many injuries. 
Nov. 4, 1952, Russia: An earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 generated a tsunami that reached the Hawaiian islands. No lives were lost.

Boxing Day Tsunami
A 9.1 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra on December 26 2004. It triggered a tsunami that left over 2,00,000 people dead in 14 countries. Aceh bore the brunt of the deaths with an estimated 1,70,000 people killed. The damage was estimated at nearly $10 billion while the casualties were more than any other tsunami in history, according to the United Nations. Indonesia is on the Ring of Fire, an arc of fault lines circling the Pacific Basin that is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.  

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