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8.6 quake jolts Indonesia, shakes India
Epicentre in Sumatra; tsunami fear grips Indian Ocean belt after 8.2 aftershock 

Banda Aceh, Indonesia, April 11
A powerful 8.6 magnitude earthquake and a series of strong aftershocks struck off Indonesia on Wednesday, sending people scurrying from buildings as far away as southern India, but there seemed little risk of a disastrous tsunami as in 2004.

Indonesia said it was checking for damage and casualties but remarkably, no such reports had been received for several hours after the quakes, including in Aceh, the closest province and the area decimated by the disaster eight years ago.

However, some areas close to the epicentre are remote so it could take some time to find out if there was any damage.

Many people were frightened of further tremors. "It's dark out here but I am scared to go home," said Mila, a 41-year-old woman taking refuge in the grand mosque in the town of Banda Aceh, the provincial capital.

Waves of up to one metre (3.3 feet) high were seen near islands off Aceh, but Indonesia cancelled a warning for fresh tsunamis. It said the worst-hit area was the thinly populated island of Simeulue, off Aceh's southern coast.

The first quake struck at 0838 GMT and an 8.2 magnitude aftershock just over two hours later, at 1043 GMT. Two more strong aftershocks hit later.

The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center also withdrew tsunami warnings for the entire Indian Ocean after keeping them in force for several hours. "Level readings now indicate that the threat has diminished or is over for most areas," the agency's bulletin said.

Thailand and India also withdrew tsunami warnings. Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India were all badly hit in 2004. At least 230,000 persons in 13 Indian Ocean countries were killed in the disaster that year. Last year, an earthquake and tsunami off Japan's northeastern coast killed at least 23,000 persons.

On Wednesday, people near the coast in six Thai provinces were ordered to move to higher ground. Authorities shut down the international airport in the Thai beach resort province of Phuket.

The quakes were about 300 miles (500 km) southwest of Banda Aceh, on the northern tip of Indonesia's Sumatra island, the US Geological survey said. The first was at a depth of 20.5 miles (33 km).

Indonesia's disaster management agency said power failed in Aceh province and people were gathering on high ground as sirens warned of the danger.

"The electricity is down, there are traffic jams to access higher ground," said Sutopo, spokesman for the agency.

"The warning system worked," Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said. Indonesian television showed people gathering in mosques in Banda Aceh. Many others were on the streets, holding crying children.

In the city of Medan, a hospital evacuated patients, who were wheeled out on beds and in wheelchairs. The tremors were felt far away in southern India. Hundreds of office workers in the city of Bangalore left their buildings while the port of Chennai closed down because of tsunami fears.

The quakes were in roughly in the same area as the 2004 quake, which was at a depth of 18 miles (30 km) along a fault line running under the Indian Ocean, off western Indonesia and up into the Bay of Bengal.

Experts said Wednesday quakes were a "strike-slip" fault, meaning a more horizontal shift of the ground under the sea as opposed to a sudden vertical shift, and less risk of a large displacement of water triggering a tsunami.

"The nature of the sideways rupture and sideways movement is not predisposed to cause a bad tsunami, so almost certainly, the crisis has been avoided," said David Rothery, an expert at the Open University in the UK. The quakes were also felt in Sri Lanka, where office workers in the capital, Colombo, fled their offices. Agencies

Southern shocker

Chennai: Tremors rocked several parts of south and southeast India, prompting panicked people to flock to open spaces as grim memories of the 2004 killer tsunami returned to haunt many. People rushed out of houses and high-rise office buildings in panic in Chennai, Bangalore, Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Visakhapatnam. Operations at the Chennai Port were suspended.

Cracks in Kolkata buildings

Parts of West Bengal, including capital Kolkata, were jolted around 2.14 pm. Scared people rushed out from their homes and offices. There was chaos on roads. In several places, cracks were spotted in buildings. Metro operations were curtailed.

Back-to-back temblors

n The first quake struck at 0838 GMT and an 8.2 magnitude aftershock just over two hours later, at 1043 GMT

n The epicentre was 33 km under water off the Indonesian coast and 435 km from Banda Aceh, the epicentre of the devastating 2004 tsunami

n Indonesia said it was checking for damage and casualties but remarkably, no such reports had been received for several hours after the quakes

n The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center immediately issued tsunami warnings for the entire Indian Ocean, but later withdrew it

n The tremors were felt far and wide in southern and eastern parts of India, Sri Lanka, Australia, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia

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