A string of strong earthquakes that hit Mentawai Islands regency, West Sumatra, on Saturday evening has caused a panic among residents who have rushed to higher ground to avoid a potential tsunami.
Haunted by a tsunami that devastated the regency nine years ago, Supri Lindra, a resident of Sikakap City, North Pagai Island, said that he and his family fled from their house near the beach to their relative’s residence in the hilly part of the island.
He said many Sikakap residents had moved to higher ground because of strong 5.3- and 6.1-magnitude earthquakes that jolted the island on Saturday at 4:03 p.m. and 4:27 p.m. respectively.
Some chose to stay near their homes, rolling out mats outside as they were reluctant to sleep indoors.
“All of us are still in trauma,” Supri said, recalling the memory of a tsunami that hit North Pagai and South Pagai islands on Oct. 25, 2010, when a 7.7-magnitude earthquake hit at around 9 p.m.
At least 400 people died in the natural disaster, while 15,000 others were forced to leave their homes for emergency shelters.
The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) recorded at least 27 quakes hit Mentawai starting at 4 p.m. on Saturday, with the strongest one measuring at 6.1 magnitude and the weakest one at 2.8 magnitude.
The epicenters of the tremors were in the western part of the Sikakap Strait and 10 kilometers in depth. They were near the epicenter of the quake that triggered the tsunami in 2010.
The tremors on Saturday evening could also be felt in mainland Sumatra, particularly in cities close to Mentawai Islands, namely Bukittinggi and Padang in West Sumatra and Sungai Penuh and Kerinci in Jambi.
The West Sumatra coordinator of the Indonesian Geologists Association (IAGI), Ade Edwar, said there was potential for a bigger quake.
“We’re not sure whether the main earthquake has occurred or not,” Ade said, adding that, according to history, an earthquake of over 8 magnitude was possible in the area.
On Nov. 25, 1833, an earthquake at a magnitude of 8.8 to 9.2 jolted the islands for roughly five minutes, while in 1797, one at 8.7 to 8.9 magnitude hit.
“Mentawai is located in an active earthquake zone that has not experienced significant earthquakes in a long time,” Ade said.
Separately, National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho reported on Sunday morning that no casualties were recorded in Saturday night’s earthquakes and two buildings – an old lighthouse and a community health center – were damaged.
“The situation is under control,” he said in a Twitter post. (vny)