Quake kills hundreds in Sri Lanka, Indonesia
One of the world's most powerful earthquakes in years rocked northern Indonesia on Sunday and launched tidal waves that slammed shorelines across Asia, killing some 300 in Sri Lanka and almost 100 in Indonesia, officials said.
The U.S. Geological Survey said a magnitude-8.5 quake ¡ª one capable of massive damage ¡ª struck off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra at 8 a.m. Sunday.
Soon after, massive waves crashed into several countries, and aftershocks in the magnitude-7 range were seen, the USGS said, raising the possibility of a large regional death toll.
Waves crashed into coastal villages over a wide area of Sri Lanka ¡ª some 1,000 miles west of the quake's epicenter ¡ª killing some 300 people and displacing thousands of others, a military official said.
The deaths occurred in the northeastern districts of Muttur and Trincomalee, which were inundated by waves as high as 20 feet, said D. Rodrigo, a Muttur district official.
At least 94 people were killed in Indonesia's Aceh province, hospital and local officials said.
Bireun district head Mustofa Glanggang told The Associated Press that 50 people were killed in Bireun district. Thirty-five bodies were brought to Cut Meutia Hospital in the northern city of Lhokseumawe, an official there said. Nine other people were killed in the provincial capital Banda Aceh, witnesses told a local radio station.
Communications were down in several coastal towns facing the epicenter of the undersea quake off the western coast of Aceh, raising fears of widespread and as yet unreported damage in the region.
At least 10 powerful aftershocks were also reported in the province after the initial quake struck, a seismologist said.
"The ground was shaking for a long time," resident Yayan Zamzani told Jakarta's el-Shinta radio station. "It must be the strongest earthquake in the last 15 years."
In India, at least 18 people were killed and more than 200 fishermen were missing at sea after high tidal waves, said Chief Secretary Mohan Kanda of Andhra Pradesh state. Unconfirmed television reports said 50 people were killed.
Fourteen people died and many were missing in popular southern Thailand resorts, said Sorajak Chusaeng, of the Narenthorn Center of the Public Health Ministry. The center also reported that people were swept away in Phuket by a tsunami with waves surging as high as 16 feet.
Don Blakeman, and earthquake analyst with the USGS, said large tidal waves frequently follow quakes like the one seen in Indonesia, noting that a powerful quake in Alaska four decades ago caused waves that killed people as far away as Japan.
He told The Associated Press that aftershocks are another concern. "We do expect large aftershocks after a large earthquake like this."