Indonesia and India have lifted a tsunami warning which was issued following a massive 8.6-magnitude earthquake off Indonesia’s Sumatra island Wednesday.
“The tsunami warning has been lifted,” Sri Woro Harijono, head of Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency, said on Metro TV.
Indonesia cancelled the warning shortly after the U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii lifted its Indian Ocean-wide tsunami alert.
India followed by lifting the warning, saying the danger has passed, according to the country’s tsunami warning center.
Earlier, Indonesia and India issued a tsunami warning after the quake with a preliminary magnitude of 8.9 hit waters off westernmost Aceh province.
The U.S. Geological Survey said Wednesday the quake was centered 20 miles (33 kilometers) beneath the ocean floor around 308 miles (495 kilometers) from the provincial capital of Banda Aceh.
“Earthquakes of this size have the potential to generate a widespread destructive tsunami that can affect coastlines across the entire Indian Ocean basin,” the U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.
The U.S. had monitors issued an Indian Ocean-wide tsunami watch following the massive earthquake off the coast of Sumatra but said it was not yet certain a giant wave had been generated.
An official at Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency who goes only by the name of Said, said a tsunami warning had been issued.
Indonesia straddles a series of fault lines that makes the vast island nation prone to volcanic and seismic activity.
A giant 9.1-magnitude quake off the country on Dec. 26, 2004, triggered a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed 230,000 people, nearly three quarter of them in Aceh.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had said there was “so far no tsunami threat” after the quake but that the country remained on alert.
Residents in Banda Aceh reported the ground shook for about five minutes, first mildly and then growing violent.
“There are people trying to evacuate, some are praying and children at a school were panicking as teachers tried to get them out,” an AFP correspondent in Banda Aceh said.
“There are traffic jams everywhere as people are trying to get away from the coast ̶ many are on motorcycles,” he said, adding that telephone connections and electricity were patchy.
Meanwhile, In the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, nervous crowds gathered on the streets after the strong quake.
“There was a first jolt for five seconds, then a pause and then a really big one. It was really frightening, the whole room was shaking,” said 42-year-old tourist Maria Teresa Pizarro from the Philippines.
“You could hear the wood in the furniture cracking, the curtains were moving and the ceiling fan was rattling. I just picked up the children and ran downstairs,” she said from the city’s coastal Galle Face hotel.
Thailand issued an evacuation order for its Andaman coast, a popular tourist destination. The National Disaster Warning Centre advised people in the area to move to higher places and stay as far away as possible from the sea.
“All people along the Andaman coast must evacuate to safe areas. We expect a tsunami 1.6 to 2.0 meters high to hit Phuket and Phang Nga at 5:40 pm (1040 GMT),” the center’s director Somsak Khaosuwan said on Thai television.
India had issued a red high-level tsunami warning for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, located in the Indian Ocean, and lower alerts for the populous coasts of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu states in the southeast of the country.
Australian Bonnie Muddle, vacationing in the Thai resort island of Phuket, said people were being evacuated from popular tourist areas including Krabi and Phang Nga bay.
“Everyone is getting a little concerned over here,” she had told AFP.