Big quake hits Sumatra, tsunami warning issued

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JAKARTA, Sep 12 (Reuters) A powerful earthquake measuring 8.2 struck Indonesia's Sumatra region today, triggering tsunami warnings in the Indian Ocean and sparking panic in coastal areas across southeast Asia.

About 2 hours after the quake hit, Indonesia's meteorological agency lifted its tsunami warning and said via a telephone text message that there had been no tsunami.

But Malaysian authorities reported a tsunami measuring 1-3 metres 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.

A Reuters witness said residents of Padang fled for higher ground.

''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 by telephone there had been no initial reports of casualties. ''Some buildings suffered from broken glass but we have not heard of any major damage.'' Indonesia's Meteorological agency said via an sms alert the quake's epicentre was 159 km southwest of Bengkulu, which is in south Sumatra.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center had issued an Indian Ocean tsunami warning after the huge quake struck at 6:10 pm local time. 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 December 26, 2004, causing a massive 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.

TSUNAMI DETECTED IN MALAYSIA In Malaysia, Mohd Rosaidi Cheabas, director of the Meteorology Department's seismological division told Reuters 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 1-3 metres,'' 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. The division estimated that if the tsunami was headed for Malaysia, it could reach the north-western shores of the Malaysian peninsula after 1930 IST.

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.

REUTERS SG HS1953

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