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Massive earthquake strikes Indonesia again; Baptist workers ready to survey damage

JAKARTA, Indonesia (BP)–Three Southern Baptist workers on an island near the epicenter of a massive earthquake that struck off the coast of Sumatra March 28 escaped the initial damage from the temblor’s violent shaking, but their vehicle was destroyed by falling buildings in the mountain town where they were staying.

Dozens of people were feared dead underneath rubble on islands hit by the earthquake.

The three workers were trying to find a motorcycle to travel into a coastal town nearby at first light but were reporting damage to roads. Several hundred thousand people live on the island. They were being warned, along with others in the region, to move away from the coast and be prepared for the potential of tsunami waves following the quake.

However, fears of a tsunami were lessening when one hadn’t struck coastlines several hours after the quake. It hit in the same region as the huge 9.0 temblor that struck Dec. 26, spawning a tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people in southern Asia.

A number of Southern Baptist tsunami relief volunteers working elsewhere in the region also were shaken by the March 28 quake but were not injured. They reported seeing no damage in their immediate area.

“All of our personnel are safe,” said a Southern Baptist worker in Indonesia who had talked by satellite phone with the workers — including those on the island near the epicenter.

“Communications are off. Electricity is off. We are warning everyone to watch for the ocean receding,” the worker said. “There are two warnings of a tsunami: The first sign, of course, is an earthquake. Then, if the ocean water withdraws, there will be a tsunami. So they’re warning everyone to watch the ocean.

“We’ve been in contact with our volunteers. They were all frightened by the massive earthquake, but no one was injured. As far as they can tell there’s no damage, but in the dark they can only see from where they’re at,” the worker said.

Other reports said many people in Banda Aceh, the region hit hardest by the earlier quake and tsunami, were fleeing their homes in panic.

Even if a tsunami doesn’t follow the new quake, damage and deaths may be significant in the quake zone — particularly on islands near the epicenter — because of the temblor’s size, the worker warned.

“The three-person survey team on this particular island were there to survey tsunami damage from before, so they will immediately make a survey of what we need to do at this point,” he said. “If there needs to be any type of response, they’re prepared and have cash on hand to do so.”

The new quake, which struck just before midnight local time, lasted about three minutes. It packed an estimated magnitude of 8.2 — later revised upward to 8.7 — and caused widespread panic. The epicenter was located about 125 miles off the Sumatran mainland and was felt as far away as Malaysia. Monitors immediately warned of the possibility of a “widely destructive tsunami.”

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

Thailand, Japan and Sri Lanka issued tsunami alerts. There are reports the quake also was felt in India.

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