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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

QUAKE-HIT ACEH RUSHES FOR HILLS

Banda Aceh: Thousands of panicstricken people packed the streets of Banda Aceh as they streamed out of the city in cars and motorcycles seeking higher ground moments after a massive earthquake measuring 8.6 struck about 434 km southwest of the city on Wednesday. 
    A series of aftershocks, one of them measuring an equally serious 8.2, rattled people further as they packed the streets hoping to find a way out of the city to the hills. There were no immediate reports of casualties in Aceh. Immediately after the temblor struck, a high tsunami alert was issued along the Indian Ocean rim and fears of a wall of waves coming down on the coastal areas looked real. People fled buildings. Terrified residents screamed "God is great" as they jumped into cars and motorcycles, clogging streets as they fled.Initial estimates had put the magnitude of the quake at 8.9, but later this was scaled down to 8.6. 
    Quake officials said they feared a tsunami had been generated and that was racing for the Aceh coast. For close to two hours, the city was on the edge. The ground had shaken for four minutes and one resident recalled. "This isn't the strongest earthquake I have felt, but it simply refused to end." Thousands feared a repeat of the deadly 2004 disaster a similar quake that had devastated the province and killed upwards of 200,000 people. 
    As tsunami fears compounded the quake shock, electricity was cut in Aceh and traffic jams kept getting worse. "Sirens blared and Koran recitals began in mosques everywhere," Reuters reported. There were reports of people jumping from windows in a desperate attempt to escape. Patients poured out on to the streets with drips still attached to their arms. 
    But when the fearsome wall of water failed to hit Aceh for close to two hours panic seemed to be subsiding. Later, an expert described the quake at Aceh as a strike-slip quake, not a thrust quake. "In a slip quake, the earth moves horizontally and doesn't displace large volumes of water," he said explaining why a tsunami hadn't struck. But, two hours later, a massive aftershock - with a similarly huge magnitude of 8.2 - struck only 110 miles further out to sea, 
unleashing fresh fears. A new tsunami alert was hoisted. 
    Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono moved to calm nerves, saying that there appeared to be no serious casualties and local residents had been taken to safety. He added that "as of this time there is no threat of tsunami" - despite an international warning being issued. "The situation is under control so far. It is a very different situation from 2004 when Aceh was faced with a deadly tsunami," he said reassuringly. AGENCIES


RATTLED: Women cry on a street in Banda Aceh after a strong earthquake struck off Indonesia; (right) Chaos in a street as people rush to leave the city for higher ground after the tsunami alert

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