CHIANGRAI TIMES – People in Indonesia and Thailand have returned to their homes after two massive earthquakes struck off the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh province, prompting a tsunami warning.
The US Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre says “the threat is over for most areas” after a magnitude 8.6 quake triggered the warning across the Indian Ocean yesterday.
The warning was lifted two hours after a large magnitude 8.2 aftershock was recorded in the same area as the initial earthquake.
As night fell, people started returning to their homes after spending the afternoon moving to higher ground or moving out onto the streets.
Indonesian authorities said five people died as the quakes struck, two from heart attacks and three of shock. At least another seven were injured, including a child in critical condition after falling from a tree.
The Indonesian island of Simeulue was closest to the earthquake.
Authorities say an 80-centimetre wave washed up on its shores.
Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono sent in a team of eight senior government officials to assess the situation on the island but their plane was unable to land due to damage to the runway.
For many, the greatest worry came from the revival of memories of the destruction caused by the 2004 tsunami, which was triggered by a magnitude 9.1 earthquake.
On Simeulue island, residents of the village of Malasin recalled the shock as yesterday’s quake struck.
“Everybody in the village rushed outside,” 42-year-old resident Asnawi said.
“The ground was shaking very hard and it lasted about five minutes.
“All of us were panicking, children and women were screaming and crying.
“I was outside my house but my 11-year-old daughter and my wife were inside.
“I just screamed at them to get out quickly, because I was so scared that my house would collapse.”
The homes in Malasin were newly built after the 2004 tsunami, but they are wooden huts that are still flimsy and vulnerable.
“The ceiling of my house has fallen and some windows were broken,” Asnawi said, adding that his home was completely destroyed in the deadly 2004 tsunami, which claimed 170,000 lives in Banda Aceh province, 150 kilometres away.
In Thailand, tourists and residents have also been returning to their homes and hotels after initial evacuations.
Thousands of people were evacuated along the Andaman coast, the same area affected by the 2004 tsunami.
Most waited on hillsides and the roofs of high-rise hotels for a number of hours before the warnings were lifted.
The government system of fixed sirens and loudspeakers put in place after 2004 to urge evacuation seemed to work effectively according to residents.
The mobile phone network crashed due to the volume of calls, but was soon restored.
Malaysia also evacuated residents on the west coast until warnings were lifted.
Geologists say the massive earthquake did not cause widespread destruction because of the movement of the tectonic plates.
The US Geological Survey’s Paul Earle says the nature of yesterday’s quake prevented a similar catastrophe as the 2004 earthquake and tsunami.
“Fortunately this was far enough off the coast that the shaking on land wasn’t enough to cause major damage and then we were also fortunate that the type of earthquake this was, which is a strike-slip earthquake, where the plates slide past each other,” he said.
“[Strike-slip quakes] are less prone to creating large tsunamis as we saw here.”