A major earthquake off the west coast of Indonesia killed 296 people in collapsed buildings a local government official reported today. And while warnings of possible tsunamis caused thousands to panic in several countries, tsunami fears eased as hours passed without signs of waves.
The epicenter of the quake, which lasted two minutes and cut off electricity, was about 125 miles off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesias largest Island.
Agnus Mendrofa, a deputy district head on the small island of Nias near the epicenter, told el-Shinta radio that 296 people were killed based on reports from humanitarian workers on the island.
According to the Associated Press, reports of damage and death were confined to the small Island of Nias near the epicenter.
Sgt. Zulkifli Sirait of the town of Gunungsitol in Nias said that 70 percent of all houses and buildings collapsed.
After the quake, people in Banda Aceh streamed out into the streetsmany of which were living in refugee camp tents because of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that hit last year on Dec. 26. With the electricity cut off, the only light available came from motorcycle and car headlights.
Monday night's earthquake was initially charted at an 8.2 magnitude quake by the U.S. Geological survey (USGS) but later changed to an 8.7 magnitude quake.
The quake was felt in Malaysia and Singapore where residents of high-rise buildings fled their apartments. Two aftershocks of 6.0 and 6.7 magnitude were also reported.
According to the USGS, Monday nights earthquake was also located on the same fault line as the Dec. 26 earthquake.
Tsunami warnings had been issued by Thailand and Sri Lanka, but were later cancelled. A small tsunami hit the sparsely populated Cocos Islands but no damage was reported, according to Reuters.
Despite eased fears, Indonesia President Chandrika Kumaratunga told Indonesians citizens over a televised broadcast that, We are taking all precautionary measures.