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Powerful Quake in Western Indonesia Sparks Panic

A powerful earthquake struck Wednesday off Indonesia's Sumatra island, a region hit hard by quakes and tsunamis in the past. Continue reading →

A powerful and shallow earthquake struck Wednesday off Indonesia's Sumatra island, sending panicked residents rushing from their homes in a region hit hard by quakes and tsunamis in the past.

Local authorities initially issued a tsunami warning but lifted it several hours later, and there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

The 7.8 magnitude undersea quake struck at a depth of 15 miles at about 6:50 p.m., the U.S. Geological Survey said.

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The epicenter was several hundred kilometres from the Mentawai Islands, a small chain southwest of the country's main western island of Sumatra.

The quake was felt strongly in Padang, a major city on western Sumatra, sparking panic. An AFP journalist there said people ran from their homes and fled to higher ground by motorbike, car or on foot.

Traffic ground to a halt and there was a sense of panic on the streets, the journalist said.

The local BMKG quake-monitoring agency issued a tsunami alert for several provinces with coastlines on western Sumatra but later lifted the warning.

The small Mentawai archipelago is regularly hit by quakes and in 2010 was devastated by a quake-triggered tsunami that left hundreds dead.

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Aceh province on the tip of Sumatra was devastated by a quake-triggered tsunami in 2004. The tsunami killed more than 170,000 people in Indonesia and tens of thousands more in other countries around the Indian Ocean.

Warning sirens Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said tsunami warning sirens were heard after the earthquake began and "people responded to the early warning by evacuating to higher places."

Bambang Soelistyo, head of Indonesia's search and rescue agency, said there had not been any reports of casualties so far.

"In the Mentawai Islands, there has been no reports of damage and people have been evacuating to higher areas," he told AFP.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire," where the meeting of continental plates causes strong seismic activity, and is frequently hit by earthquakes.

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Hundreds died when a major quake struck near Padang in 2009.

Plans for evacuation shelters and improved roads to provide better escape routes from tsunamis since 2004 have mostly not been realized, according to experts.

In Australia, to the east of the Indonesian archipelago, authorities said there was no tsunami threat to the Australian mainland but issued a marine threat to Cocos Island and Christmas Island off the east coast.

Evacuations were not required, according to the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre, but there was a possibility of dangerous waves and strong currents.

People in Christmas Island were advised to get out of the water and move away from the immediate water's edge.

Sri Lanka's Disaster Management Center did not issue a tsunami warning Wednesday, but said it was monitoring the situation.

A spectacular volcanic eruption in Indonesia has killed three people and forced mass evacuations, disrupting long-haul flights and closing international airports on Friday. Mount Kelud, considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes on the main island of Java, spewed red-hot ash and rocks high into the air late Thursday night just hours after its alert status was raised.

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Villagers in eastern Java described the terror of volcanic materials raining down on their homes, while AFP correspondents at the scene saw residents covered in grey dust fleeing in cars and on motorbikes towards evacuation centers. Some of Java's Buddhist temples, such as Prambanan Temple, above, were closed as volcanic ash from Mount Kelud rained down on them.

The 1,731-meter (5,712-foot) Mount Kelud has claimed more than 15,000 lives since 1500, including around 10,000 deaths in a massive eruption in 1568. It is one of 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia, which sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a belt of seismic activity running around the basin of the Pacific Ocean. Earlier this month, another volcano, Mount Sinabung on western Sumatra island, unleashed an enormous eruption that left at least 16 dead and has been erupting almost daily since September.

Some 200,000 people were ordered to evacuate, though some families ignored the orders and others have returned home, with just over 75,000 now in temporary shelters, National Disaster Mitigation Agency Spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told AFP.

Nugroho confirmed that ash and pumice were still raining down on villages within a radius of 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the volcano on Friday, but said that some activities were resuming "as normal."

The ash has blanketed eastern Javanese cities, forcing seven airports to close, including those in Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Solo, Semarang and Bandung, which serve international flights, officials said, while grounded planes were seen covered in the dust. "All flights to those airports have been cancelled, and other flights, including some between Australia and Indonesia, have been rerouted," Transport Ministry director general of aviation Herry Bakti said, adding it was "too dangerous to fly" near the plume.