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The Indian Ocean is on tsunami alert after a quake off the coast of Sumatra, the Indonesian island that bore the brunt of the 26 December disaster.

It struck just before midnight local time, with an estimated magnitude of 8.2, and caused widespread panic.

There were unconfirmed reports of casualties from the tremor as people left coastal areas of Sumatra.

Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and India are also on alert after forecasts of a "widely destructive tsunami".

The quake struck between the Sumatran cities of Padang and Medan at around 2315 local time (1615 GMT) and lasted up to three minutes, according to Indonesia's Meteorological and Geophysics Office.

Its epicentre was located at about 200km (125 miles) off the Sumatran mainland.

Most people were in bed at the time and there were no immediate reports of damage, says the BBC's Tim Johnstone in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

Reports from Banda Aceh say thousands came out into the streets, fearful of collapsing houses, while an official quoted by Reuters news agency spoke of "dozens" killed on the island of Nias.

Communications were swamped, although some mobile phone messages were getting through.

'I heard my neighbours screaming'

The 26 December tsunami caused major damage and killed tens of thousands of people in states across the region.

Russ Evans, a seismologist from the British Geological Survey, told the BBC that Monday's tremor quake was almost certainly an after-shock of the earlier quake, which had a magnitude of 9.

A new tsunami was certainly possible, he said, but on a smaller scale.

The quake was felt across the region with people in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, some 500km away, evacuating high-rise buildings and running out into the streets.

"I was getting ready for bed, and suddenly, the room started shaking," said Kuala Lumpur resident Jessie Chong.

"I thought I was hallucinating at first, but then I heard my neighbours screaming and running out."

Thailand and India, badly hit by the 26 December disaster, issued tsunami alerts while Sri Lanka evacuated coastal areas.

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Quake Hits Off Sumatra, Prompts Concern About Tsunami (Update6)

March 29 (Bloomberg) -- A magnitude-8.7 earthquake struck off the northwestern coast of Indonesia, raising initial concerns that a tsunami might hit the area where waves from a Dec. 26 temblor caused widespread death and destruction.

``There has been no major tsunami observed near the epicenter,'' the U.S. government's Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said in a bulletin on its Web site issued almost three hours after the quake, the period the agency said was the most dangerous. The U.S. Geological Survey initially measured the quake's strength as magnitude 8.2.

Agus Mendrofa, a local government official, said there were deaths and injuries from falling objects like furniture in the quake on the island of Nias off Sumatra, Indonesia's MetroTV reported. India, while posting a tsunami alert, said there was no evidence of destructive waves. S.K. Swami, director of national disaster management in India's Ministry of Home Affairs, said in a telephone interview from New Delhi that ``so far nothing has been noted'' in terms of a higher sea level.

The earthquake was an aftershock of the magnitude-9 undersea quake on Dec. 26 that killed as many as 270,000 people around the Indian Ocean as waves slammed into shorelines as far away as East Africa. Indonesia's Sumatra island was the hardest hit spot in the December disaster, which devastated local economies, from the fishing industry in Sri Lanka to beach hotels in Thailand.

Ten Most Powerful

The U.S. Geological Survey said the March 28 temblor hit at 11:09 p.m. Sumatra time and was among the 10 most powerful quakes recorded since 1900. The epicenter was about 50 miles offshore. The quake was strong enough to cause a tsunami, Jill McCarthy, chief scientist on the geological hazards team, said in a telephone interview.

Sri Lanka posted a tsunami warning, Agence France-Presse cited government authorities as saying. Thailand issued a warning for provinces in the southern part of the country, Kraisorn Pornsuthee, permanent secretary of the Information and Communication Technology Ministry, told ITV television network.

Smith Thammasaroj, vice minister of the Office of the Prime Minister in Thailand, where he heads the country's recently established tsunami warning system, told Channel 7 there are no signs of a tsunami. He advised people to ``stay in a safe place just to be sure'' until 2:30 a.m. local time.

Sumatra Coast

Damage from the quake in Medan, one of the largest cities in Sumatra, was limited, the U.S. consul general told the State Department, agency spokesman Adam Ereli said in Washington. Medan is closer to the east coast of Sumatra, near the Strait of Malacca, than to the Indian Ocean.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, based in Hawaii, urged ``immediate action'' to evacuate Indian Ocean coasts up to 1,000 kilometers from the epicenter after the quake. There is not yet an Indian Ocean tsunami warning network similar to the one operating in the Pacific.

Government authorities ``can assume the danger has passed'' if no tsunami waves are seen within three hours of the quake, the center said.

The quake lasted as long as three minutes, AFP cited Indonesia's Meteorological and Geophysics Office as saying. The temblor caused power blackouts on Sumatra, AFP said.

Residents in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital of Aceh, fled by the thousands, Indonesia's MetroTV news station reported, citing its reporter on the ground.

Mona Laczo, an Oxfam aid coordinator, said in a telephone interview she felt the quake from the 23rd floor of her Bangkok hotel, saying the building swayed ``for a good minute.''

December Disaster

The disaster prompted one of the largest international relief efforts ever mounted, including U.S. Navy ships and helicopters sent in to haul food and medicine to areas in Indonesia and Sri Lanka cut off after the waves swept ashore.

The Indonesian government last week increased its estimate for the cost of rebuilding areas devastated by the disaster by 27 percent to include programs to help survivors rebuild their lives.

The December earthquake and tsunami raised the risk of another quake of more than 7 magnitude in the region because of increased pressure on the seabed, a group of seismologists said in a study released last month.

The magnitude-9 quake caused the Indian tectonic plate to slip under the Burma plate, increasing stress on the Sumatra fault line near Aceh, the study by John McCloskey from the University of Ulster and colleagues said. The research underlines the need for a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean, McCloskey said.

A United Nations-sponsored group called this month for Indian Ocean countries to create tsunami emergency contact centers by April 1. The centers would receive warnings from earthquake and tidal censors and transmit them to country officials, who in turn would pass them onto the public.

To contact the reporter on this story:

Todd Zeranski in New York at tzeranski@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:

Edward DeMarco at edemarco1@bloomberg.net.

Last Updated: March 28, 2005 14:52 EST

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