July 24, 2005

Strong quake hits Indian islands, but no tsunami

PORT BLAIR, India (Reuters) - India's Andaman and Nicobar
islands, devastated by last year's tsunami, were shaken by a
strong quake on Sunday but officials said there was no danger
of new killer waves hitting the Indian Ocean archipelago.

Thailand exercised caution and declared a tsunami alert but
canceled it less than 90 minutes later, while Indian officials
said there was no danger of a huge wave like the one that hit
last December.

"There is no tsunami warning from the Indian side," Indian
Science and Technology Ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar told
Reuters in New Delhi.

"The government is asking people to remain calm. The
essential precondition for a tsunami is that the earthquake
should be of 7.5 magnitude and this is below it."

Sunday's earthquake came seven months after the Dec. 26
tsunami, triggered by a 9.15 magnitude earthquake. Some 227,000
are dead or missing after the December tsunami.

India's Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal also
dismissed talk of a tsunami.

"Any talk of a tsunami as of now should not be taken heed
of," Sibal told Indian television channels. "It has been two
hours since the earthquake. If the tsunami was coming, it would
have come by now."

The quake hit the area off India's eastern coast at 1542
GMT measuring 7.0, according to the U.S. Geological Survey
which initially urged authorities near its epicenter to be
aware of the risk of local tsunamis.

But it also said on its Web site they could assume the
danger had passed if no tsunamis were seen within an hour of
the tremor, which hit at a depth of 10 km (six miles).

All over the Andaman islands, people ran from their homes
and gathered in open places. Police were put on high alert, but
three hours after the earthquake said they had still not
received any reports of casualties or damage.

"We could not understand what was happening," said Deepika
Mazumbder on Rangat island in the Andaman chain. "But as soon
as we realized that was a quake we ran for safer places."


Thailand issued a tsunami alert for six southern provinces
hit by last year's tsunami and ordered thousands of people
living along the Andaman Sea coastline to evacuate, but
canceled it soon after.

"We've found no tsunami that could endanger people's lives
or damage property therefore we now call off the alert,"
Plodprasob Surasawadee, head of the National Disaster Warning
Center, said in a message broadcast on all television networks.

The quake hit about 1,110 km (690 miles) southwest of
Bangkok. Last year's tsunami killed 5,395 people in Thailand.

In Indonesia's Aceh, further to the south of the region
where the quake struck and the area worst hit by massive waves
on Dec. 26, an official also initially spoke of the possibility
of a tsunami reaching the province.

Residents in Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra island
said they felt the quake, but there appeared to be little
panic. Since Dec. 26, countless aftershocks have struck Aceh.

About 3,500 people died and 2,000 were missing and feared
dead from last year's tsunami on the Andaman and Nicobar
islands, which are situated on an undersea faultline that
continues to Indonesia to the south.

The more than 550 islands in the Indian Ocean archipelago
have experienced hundreds of aftershocks since December.

(Additional reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan in Bangkok)