- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2005

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — A major earthquake struck late today off the west coast of Indonesia, and a local government official said 296 people were killed in collapsed buildings. Thousands panicked in countries across the Indian Ocean as tsunami warnings were posted.

Fears of another catastrophe similar to December’s devastating tsunami eased within hours, as officials in countries closest to the quake’s epicenter said there were no reports of big waves striking their coasts after the temblor was reported.

Early reports of damage and casualties were confined to the island of Nias, off the Sumatran coast, close to the epicenter.

The quake collapsed about 70 percent of houses and buildings in the town of Gunungsitoli, said police Sgt. Zulkifli Sirait.

Agus Mendrofa, deputy district head on Nias island, told el-Shinta radio station that 296 people were killed. He said this figure was based on reports from humanitarian workers on the island.

“We still cannot count the number of casualties or the number of collapsed building because it is dark here,” Sirait said in a telephone interview. “It is possible that hundreds of people trapped in the collapsed buildings died.”

Nias, a renowned surfing spot, was badly hit by the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami on Dec. 26 that killed at least 175,000 people in 12 Indian Ocean nations and left another 106,000 missing. At least 340 residents of Nias perished and 10,000 were left homeless.

The U.S. Geological Survey said Monday’s quake, which occurred at 11:09 p.m. local time (11:09 a.m. EST), measured a magnitude of 8.2. A later reading put the magnitude at 8.7, said Paul Earle, a USGS geophysicist.

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