New Delhi, Apr 11 (IBNS): Panic spread quickly across the eastern frontiers of India on Wednesday after undersea earthquakes off the west coast of Indonesia sparked fears of a recurrence of the 2004 disaster that left more than 230,000 people dead.
No serious damage or casualties were reported anywhere on the Indian mainland or island territories into the Indian ocean and tsunami warnings for India, and even Indonesia, that were issued were lifted by the evening.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the first 8.6-magnitude quake struck 435 kilometers from Indonesian province Aceh’s capital at 2:08 pm and a major aftershock of 8.2 magnitude followed it. However waves that hit the coast were less than 30 inches high.
But the Indian Ocean-wide tsunami warning prompted mass evacuations and alarm in areas that were worst hit seven years ago as people rushed for high ground as sirens warned of the danger, Indonesia's disaster management agency reported.
In India a few thousand people were evacuated to higher ground from parts of Andaman and Nicobar islands after the earthquakes as the islands prepared for tsunami waves up to 3.9 metres high, officials said.
Mild tremors were felt in major eastern cities of Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai and Bangalore for a few seconds while 24-hour television news networks beamed on loop footage of alarmed people running out of buildings.
Curious onlookers, some armed with cameras, thronged to beaches in south India to catch a glimpse of the oncoming waves and police used megaphones to try and disperse crowds with little effect.
Emergency drills were initiated in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, reports said. Cellphone networks in Chennai were jammed till 4 pm while metro rail services were disrupted for nearly an hour in Kolkata.
However, no damage or casualties were reported anywhere and there were no signs of a tsunami, Home Secretary R K Singh told reporters in New Delhi, adding that the union government was in constant touch with officials in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Odisha.
The Indian Air Force was kept on standby for relief operations while six teams of 40 people each from the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) were positioned at Hindon near Delhi, and at Chennai, government officials said.
Wednesday’s panic was seen as largely a result of the experiences from an earlier disaster when an earthquake of 9.1 magnitude struck roughly the same area on Dec 26, 2004 triggering a tsunami and killing at least 230,000 people in the region.
That earthquake, the sixth deadliest one in history, differed from Wednesday’s temblors as this time the tectonic plates moved horizontally instead of vertically which usually minimises chances of a tsunami, experts said.
The earthquake also sparked fears of damage to the controversial Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) that is under construction in Tamil Nadu, however the facility was not affected a top official clarified.
"We received the alert from Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services in Hyderabad and we are generally on alert. But our work is continuing," M Kasinath Balaji, Site Director, Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, was quoted as saying.