8.7 Quake Strikes Indonesian Islands; 2000 Feared Dead; Tsunami Alerts Given, Cancelled

March 29, 2005

A severe earthquake, measuring 8.7 on the Richter Scale, struck several Islands off the Northwest Coast of the Indonesian Island of Sumatra at around 11:15 p.m. local time (11:15 a.m. EST) causing heavy damage and loss of life.

The most severe damage from the quake, which lasted up to 3 minutes, was reported from the island of Nias, where early estimates indicated the death toll could reach 2000. The epicenter was slightly to the south of the huge earthquake that struck the region on Dec. 26, triggering massive tsunamis that killed an estimated 300,000 people and devastated low lying areas throughout the Northern Indian Ocean.

Authorities in the region, and the tsunami warning Center in Hawaii, hurriedly issued alerts, but the quake did not cause the formation of any killer waves. However, according to news reports the quake, which was felt as far away as Malaysia and Sri Lanka, caused widespread panic among local residents still traumatized by the tsunamis. Many fled low-lying areas for higher ground.

In an interview with the BBC Indonesia’s Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said he feared up to 2,000 people may have died on Nias. He indicated the figure was based on an assessment of damaged buildings, not a body count. Local officials said about 300 people were feared dead. Around 80 percent of buildings in the island’s largest town, Gunungsitoli, were reportedly destroyed.

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