24 Hour Shakedown In Sumatra

Clear memories of past disasters send everyone to the hillsA series of major earthquakes and aftershocks rocked Sumatra, Indonesia, yesterday, killing at least nine people and sparking panic in the coastal centres of Padang, Bengkulu and the Mentawai Islands.

There were no reported casualties among the busy surf tourism industry of the Mentawais, though some resorts sustained minor damage and evacuated guests.

Tsunami warnings were issued throughout Indian Ocean coastal regions, and entire towns and villages in Sumatra fled to high ground. Reports of tidal surges of up to one metre caused damage in the southern Mentawai town of Sikakap, a regular re-fuelling stop for charter boats, but no major tsunami eventuated.

At Katiet Villas, fronting Lance's Rights, staff and villagers fled to higher ground but no guests were in the resort at the time.

"It's been a pretty interesting 24 hours," resort manager Andrew Bowling said. "The first quake went for about 30 seconds and shook about a foot of water out of the inground pools. We went to higher ground for two hours. Then this morning I literally got rolled out of bed. The whole village ended up on the highest hill on the island."

The first quake, measuring 8.2 on the richter scale, struck about 6 pm on Wednesday, September 12, with its epicenter 130 kilometres southwest of Bengkulu. The next morning another 7.7 quake struck.

Surf Aid International's media director, Kirk Willcox, in Padang, said the second quake felt stronger than the first, as the epicenter was closer to the town. Up to 50 minor tremors had been recorded in 24 hours and the epicenter appeared to be moving north-west, closer to Padang and the Mentawais. Many bulldings were damaged and one four-storey car dealership had collapsed, killing a security guard. "After the first quake, I went out on the street and everyone's out of their houses, the road's just undulating like a snake, twisting and rolling," said Kirk. SurfAid had up to 30 staff in the Mentawai capital of Tuapajet but they were all safe and well, he said, and had moved to higher ground. Tuapajet was a virtual ghost town, as the entire population fled to the hills, and many buildings were damanged. One report suggested {{{90}}}% of houses had been damaged on the largest Mentawai island of Siberut.

The surf was only small in the Mentawais at the time, around three feet, with no sign of a tsunami, though there had been an extremely low tide. At Katiet, Andrew Bowling was sitting it out anxiously, wondering when to retreat to higher ground again. "We've got a ladder up to get on top of the kitchen if we need to but so far so good." he said. "Every time there's a tremor we look at each other with beady eyes, wondering if we should go back up the hill. But you can't spend your whole life on top of a hill waiting for a wave."

Indonesia and the surrounding area