Agam's Gecko
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Last night at 11:09 pm, an earthquake measuring 8.7 on the Richter scale occurred off the northwest coast of Sumatra, just a few hundred kilometres south of the 9.1 quake which triggered the Boxing Day tsunami. The epicentre was apparently very close, if not directly under Nias Island at a depth of about 30 km. Nearly all buildings in the main town on the island are said to have collapsed, and at least 1000 islanders are feared dead. Another report this morning put the expected loss of life at more than 2000. Reports from the area carried on MetroTV this morning, claim that the quake last night was felt to be even more violent and long-lasting than the quake 3 months ago. Nias Island is one of the top surfing destinations in the world, a tourism benefit which has resulted in many concrete buildings replacing traditional wood, bamboo and thatch constuctions, inevitably increasing the danger to life when they collapse.

Fortunately no tsunami was generated this time, but strangely enough a pair of "large" waves came ashore way over in east Java, frightening residents there and prompting a panicked exodus to higher ground. I find it difficult to believe that this could be connected to the earthquake at Nias. Almost humourously, with all the heightened sensitivity to unusual ocean wave activity, Metro reported on wave action at the Cocos Islands (between Indonesia and Australia) as being the only oceanic disturbance attributable (thus far) to this quake. Their news ticker reported that waves of "23 cm. in height" had come ashore there.

Residents of Samosir Island in North Sumatra report that they are still without power, and that they felt recurring quakes for several hours last night. The big quake was said to be the strongest ever felt in that area. Samosir is an island in the centre of a deep crater lake nestled in the middle of mountainous North Sumatra province, the famous Lake Toba. Video shown this morning on Indonesian tv showed the understandably skittish residents of Banda Aceh evacuating to higher ground last night, but the only casualties mentioned so far have been from traffic accidents in the mass exodus. Evidently the same occurred in Padang -- the other major city on the west coast, well south of Nias.

This morning's BBC report had me a bit confused initially, with the announcer talking about the panic and damage to Nias Island while showing pictures of people fleeing out of modern downtown shopping malls. What? There's no way Nias looks like that! It turned out to have been Hat Yai, a large town on the Gulf of Thailand (popular with Malaysians looking for some nightlife). The quake seems to have shaken Hat Yai enough to cause panic, which is surprising in that it is over 800 km. distant.

I've been trying to reach Tapaktuan by phone this morning without success. I'm glad that Ibu and Bapak are in Jakarta now, but eldest son was due to return to Aceh last Friday the 25th. He has his cellphone with him, but I can't get through on that number, nor on the landline I have for our neighbour. If the quake was felt so strongly all the way up in the highlands around Lake Toba, it will have most likely done some damage in Tapaktuan which is much closer. One worry, in addition of course to the still unclear conditions on Nias itself, must be for potential damage to roads and bridges just newly repaired along the Aceh coast, and the possibility that these transportation links which are still essential for continuing relief to areas devastated three months ago, might be once again broken.

Here are a couple of useful links from the US Geological Survey; the most recent earthquake list for Asia, and an earthquake map centred on this area.

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