A POWERFUL earthquake measuring 8.2 struck Indonesia's Sumatra region last night, triggering tsunami warnings in the Indian Ocean and sparking panic in coastal areas across South-East Asia.
Reports say nine people were killed, although this is yet to be officially confirmed.
About 2½ hours after the quake hit, Indonesia's meteorological agency lifted its tsunami warning and said that there had been no tsunami.
But Malaysian authorities reported a tsunami measuring 1-3m in height and heading away from the epicentre of the quake.
Indonesia's Global TV reported several buildings in Padang, the capital of West Sumatra had collapsed, while Metro TV reported some buildings had caught fire.
Witnesses said residents of Padang fled for higher ground.
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"The city is in complete chaos. Everyone is heading to higher ground, I saw one house collapsed to the ground. I'm trying to save my family," said the witness in Padang, the provincial capital of West Sumatra, north of the earthquake's epicentre.
An aide to Padang Mayor Fauzi Bahar said there had been no initial reports of casualties. "Some buildings suffered from broken glass but we have not heard of any major damage."
A 15cm tsunami was observed at Cocos Island, a territory of Australia, following the quake.
A preliminary tsunami warning was issued to residents of Christmas and Cocos islands after the undersea earthquake hit . Dr Phil Cummins from Geoscience Australia said he was not aware of any flooding or water inundation on Cocos or Christmas islands.
Northern Australia was warned to watch for rising waters, but nothing eventuated.
“There's a small tsunami observed in Indonesia itself and a 15cm tsunami observed on the tide gauge at Cocos Island,” Dr Cummins said.
Indonesia's Meteorological agency said the quake's epicentre was 159km southwest of Bengkulu, which is in south Sumatra.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre had issued an Indian Ocean tsunami warning after the huge quake struck at 6:10 pm (9.10pm AEST). Authorities from Malaysia and Sri Lanka issued independent warnings, as did India for the Andaman and Nicobar islands, and Australia for Christmas and Cocos Islands.
A huge earthquake struck the same area on Boxing Day, 2004, causing a huge tsunami and over 230,000 deaths in countries across the region. Indonesia suffers frequent quakes, lying on an active seismic belt on part of the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire".
Some residents of Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand also felt the quake and some buildings were evacuated.
Budi, a police chief in Bengkulu, said on Indonesia's Elshinta radio that he felt a strong quake. "People panicked and tried to save themselves," he said.
He added he heard a report that a three-storey building had collapsed.
In Malaysia, Mohd Rosaidi Cheabas, director of the Meteorology Department's seismological division said it was not following Indonesia, which lifted an earlier tsunami warning for the neighbouring country.
"Right now, the tsunami is already detected over Padang, Indonesia, at a height of 1-3m," he said.
"We are not following Indonesia. We are still monitoring the movement of the tsunami wave to our region."
He said the tsunami had been detected by a tide gauge and was not clear on the direction of the wave. Malaysian authorities issued a tsunami warning for citizens to stay away from beaches.
"A tsunami alert has been issued following 7.9 quake in Bengkulu. People in Perlis, Kedah, Perak and Penang (states) advised to move away from beaches," said the warning, delivered via text message to mobile-phone subscribers nation-wide.
Police on the resort island of Penang, hit in the 2004 tsunami, have been mobilised to evacuate people from beach-side hotels and other dwellings, a local government official said.
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