By Ahmadi Jha (AFP) – Apr 11, 2012
SIMEULUE, Indonesia — Terrified villagers on a remote Indonesian island near the epicentre of a massive earthquake ran out of their homes and headed for the hills when the ground began to shake Wednesday.
Asnawi, 42, from the village of Malasin, recalled the shock of the 8.6-magnitude quake that triggered a tsunami warning across the Indian Ocean.
"Everybody in the village rushed outside. The ground was shaking very hard and it lasted about five minutes. All of us were panicking, children and women were screaming and crying," he told AFP.
"I was outside my house but my 11-year old daughter and my wife were inside. I just screamed at them to get out quickly, because I was so scared that my house would collapse," said Asnawi, who goes by one name.
The Simeulue island of fishing villages sits close to the epicentre of the quake which struck in the late afternoon and was followed by a strong 8.2-magnitude aftershock.
Electricity was knocked out and villagers sat outside their homes in the darkness with their most precious possessions.
The 80,000 people on the island know well the destruction tsunamis can bring -- an enormous tsunami triggered by a 9.1-magnitude quake devastated Indonesia in December 2004 and claimed a fifth of Simeulue island, though only a few lives.
An AFP correspondent on the island said Wednesday he saw the water recede around 10 metres (33 feet) -- a strong sign that a tsunami is approaching -- and that residents were relieved when a one-metre wave came and went, causing little bother.
The homes in Malasin were newly built after the 2004 tsunami, but they are wooden huts that are still flimsy and vulnerable.
"The ceiling of my house has fallen and some windows were broken," Asnawi said, adding that his home was rebuilt after being completely destroyed in the 2004 killer tsunami, which claimed 170,000 lives in Banda Aceh province, 150 kilometres (93 miles) away.
Dewi Phoennadiyani, who runs a surf resort on the island, said some of her staff members would spend the night in the hills and return home in the morning when they know it is safe.
"My staff called me and told me that all the electricity is out, so people have panicked and feel safer in the hills. They prefer to return home in daylight," she said, speaking from the Aceh capital of Banda Aceh on Sumatra island.
Phoennadiyani said that residents on the island, even children, had strong survival skills in the event of a tsunami.
"About 100 years ago, there was an enormous tsunami they called Semong, which wiped out parts of the island. Since then, the locals have passed the knowledge down to younger generations of how to read signs a tsunami is coming," she said.
"When people see it coming they yell 'Semong' and people know to run. That's why there were so few deaths in 2004, even though the tsunami destroyed so much of the island."
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