Huge quake strikes off Indonesia but tsunami warnings canceled

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7.8 Magnitude Earthquake Generates Tsunami Scare

JAKARTA (Reuters) -- A massive quake struck on Wednesday off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, a region devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean quake and tsunami, but initial fears of another region-wide disaster faded as tsunami warnings were canceled.

Indonesian and Australian authorities called off their tsunami alerts within two hours of the 7.8 magnitude tremor, though it was still unclear if the quake had destroyed any buildings or killed people in Sumatra.

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7.8-magnitude quake off Indonesia coast
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Huge quake strikes off Indonesia but tsunami warnings canceled
Indonesian residents use a variety of transport options as they rush to higher ground in Padang late March 2, 2016, after a powerful earthquake struck off the coast of the island of Sumatra. A powerful and shallow earthquake struck off western Indonesia, sending panicked residents of one city rushing from their homes, and local authorities issued a tsunami warning. AFP PHOTO/STR / AFP / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Indonesian residents ride on a scooter and sidecar as they rush to higher ground in Padang late March 2, 2016, after a powerful earthquake struck off the coast of the island of Sumatra. A powerful and shallow earthquake struck off western Indonesia, sending panicked residents of one city rushing from their homes, and local authorities issued a tsunami warning. AFP PHOTO/STR / AFP / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
JAKARTA, INDONESIA - MARCH 02: An Indonesia man read news of the earthquake that shook the Mentawai islands on the internet that just happened, in Jakarta, Indonesia, on March 02, 2016. An earthquake with a strength of magnitude 8.3, which is 4,908 °S 94 275 °E depth = 24.0 km (14.9 mi), a potential tsunami, local officials said. Until now, telecommunications were cut off in the Mentawai area and lost contact. (Photo by Jefri Tarigan /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
JAKARTA, INDONESIA - MARCH 02: An Indonesia man read news of the earthquake that shook the Mentawai islands on the internet that just happened, in Jakarta, Indonesia, on March 02, 2016. An earthquake with a strength of magnitude 8.3, which is 4,908 °S 94 275 °E depth = 24.0 km (14.9 mi), a potential tsunami, local officials said. Until now, telecommunications were cut off in the Mentawai area and lost contact. (Photo by Jefri Tarigan /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
PADANG, INDONESIA - MARCH 02: Indonesian people are seen on highway as they go to higher grounds in Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia on March 2, 2016 after a powerful earthquake struck off the coast of the island of Sumatra. An earthquake with a strength of magnitude 8.3, which is 4,908 °S 94 275 °E depth = 24.0 km (14.9 mi), a potential tsunami, local officials said. Until now, telecommunications were cut off in the Mentawai area and lost contact. (Photo by Rajo Lengang Kini/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
PADANG, INDONESIA - MARCH 02: Indonesian people are seen on highway as they go to higher grounds in Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia on March 2, 2016 after a powerful earthquake struck off the coast of the island of Sumatra. An earthquake with a strength of magnitude 8.3, which is 4,908 °S 94 275 °E depth = 24.0 km (14.9 mi), a potential tsunami, local officials said. Until now, telecommunications were cut off in the Mentawai area and lost contact. (Photo by Rajo Lengang Kini/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
PADANG, INDONESIA - MARCH 02: Indonesian people are seen on highway as they go to higher grounds in Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia on March 2, 2016 after a powerful earthquake struck off the coast of the island of Sumatra. An earthquake with a strength of magnitude 8.3, which is 4,908 °S 94 275 °E depth = 24.0 km (14.9 mi), a potential tsunami, local officials said. Until now, telecommunications were cut off in the Mentawai area and lost contact. (Photo by Rajo Lengang Kini/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
PADANG, INDONESIA - MARCH 02: Indonesian people are seen on highway as they go to higher grounds in Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia on March 2, 2016 after a powerful earthquake struck off the coast of the island of Sumatra. An earthquake with a strength of magnitude 8.3, which is 4,908 °S 94 275 °E depth = 24.0 km (14.9 mi), a potential tsunami, local officials said. Until now, telecommunications were cut off in the Mentawai area and lost contact. (Photo by Rajo Lengang Kini/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
JAKARTA, INDONESIA - MARCH 02: An Indonesia man read news of the earthquake that shook the Mentawai islands on the internet that just happened, in Jakarta, Indonesia, on March 02, 2016. An earthquake with a strength of magnitude 8.3, which is 4,908 °S 94 275 °E depth = 24.0 km (14.9 mi), a potential tsunami, local officials said. Until now, telecommunications were cut off in the Mentawai area and lost contact. (Photo by Jefri Tarigan /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Map of earthquake epicenter, according to the USGS.
Earthquake off Indonesia's Sumatra coast revised downward to magnitude 7.8 - USGS https://t.co/jjBPW1ROKs
Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre cancels watch for Western Australia following Indonesia quake https://t.co/LK0DEhUUaE
M7.9 #earthquake Southwest of Sumatra, Indonesia https://t.co/Fi1dq8J5Fd https://t.co/yV0kQt8lLh
Tsunami watch issued for coastal parts of Western Australia - Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre https://t.co/LK0DEhUUaE
A magnitude-7.9 earthquake strikes off the coast of Indonesia, the USGS reports. https://t.co/2gDlAAeOaZ
BREAKING: Magnitude-7.9 earthquake strikes Indian Ocean west of Jakarta in Indonesia. No tsunami warning issued yet. https://t.co/PamTqYEwdA
Indonesia agency issues tsunami warning after magnitude 7.9 earthquake off Sumatra - Reuters https://t.co/A55ecpd3fZ
The U.S. Geological Service says the earthquake had a preliminary magnitude of 7.9: https://t.co/oImSxPdj7R
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A National Search and Rescue Agency official gave an initial report of some deaths, but later withdrew those comments.

"Up until now, there is no information about deaths," said Heronimus Guru, the agency's deputy head of operations.

Any rescue operation will be hampered by the dark, which falls early in the tropical archipelago.

There were no immediate reports of damage, but the shallower a quake, the more dangerous it is. The U.S. Geological Survey originally put the magnitude at 8.2, revising it down to 7.8.

The epicenter was 808 km (502 miles) southwest of the coastal city of Padang. It was 24 km (15 miles) deep, it said, after first putting its depth at 10 km.

"So far there have been no reports (of damage)," Andi Eka Sakya, head of the National Meteorological Agency, told TVOne. "In Bengkulu (in southwest Sumatra) they didn't feel it at all."

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency said a tsunami was unlikely.

"Local governments of the city of Padang and some other areas in west Sumatra have said there was no tsunami and the warning can now be revoked," spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

President Joko Widodo was staying overnight at a hotel in Medan in North Sumatra and was safe, palace officials said. A Medan resident said he did not feel the quake.

Erwin, a resident of Mentawai, a chain of islands off Sumatra, told Metro TV: "I am at the beach currently looking to see any tsunami sign with my flashlight. There's nothing. A few minutes have passed but nothing, but many people have already evacuated to higher places."

On Pagai, an island off the west coast of Sumatra, resident Jois Zaluchu told Reuters by phone that there were no reports of damage or casualties there.

But Kompas TV said patients at hospitals in Padang were being evacuated. A TVOne reporter said Padang residents were panicking and there were heavy traffic jams.

Indonesia, especially Aceh, was badly hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.

RELATED: Aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami

1 PHOTOS
2004 Indonesia Tsunami and Earthquake
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Huge quake strikes off Indonesia but tsunami warnings canceled
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A 9.15-magnitude quake opened a fault line deep beneath the ocean on Dec. 26, 2004, triggering a wave as high as 17.4 meters (57 feet) that crashed ashore in more than a dozen countries to wipe some communities off the map in seconds.

The disaster killed 126,741 people in Aceh alone.

Indonesia straddles the so-called "Pacific Ring of Fire", a highly seismically active zone, where different plates on the earth's crust meet and create a large number of earthquakes and volcanoes.

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