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Tsunami scare drives people out of homes

July 24: An earthquake of magnitude 7.2 shook the Andaman and Nicobar Islands tonight causing residents to run from their homes and prompting Thailand to issue a tsunami warning.

The Centre and Andamans administration, however, issued none and tried to calm residents by announcing the sea was placid and there was no need to panic.

Andaman and Nicobar governor Ram Kapse said there have been no casualties or damage, but people have been asked to stay away from the sea shore.

The December 26 tsunami had killed around 3,000 people in the Andamans and over 200,000 around the Indian Ocean rim. The earthquake that triggered it measured 9 on the Richter scale, unleashing waves that had sped from the epicentre off Sumatra in Indonesia to the Tamil Nadu coast in about an hour.

Some three hours after tonight’s tremor, a senior scientist at the National Geophysical Research Institute said there cannot be a tsunami in the Indian Ocean two hours after a quake. “A tsunami is totally ruled out,” N.K. Chadha told reporters in Hyderabad.

But the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in the US warned that “earthquakes of this size sometimes generate local tsunamis that can be destructive along coasts located within a few hundred kilometres of the earthquake epicentre” ' identified at 8.4 degrees north and 92.5 degrees east, 60 km southwest of Car Nicobar.

In the island’s air force station, where the December tsunami killed nearly 100 personnel, residents were taking no chances. They were camping outside their houses till late in the night. In Port Blair too, which witnessed a tremor of magnitude 5.5, residents rushed out of homes.

“We have told people (over the public address system) there is nothing to worry,” said D.S. Negi, chief secretary of the Andaman and Nicobar administration. “I have checked with met officials and marine forces ' the sea is absolutely calm.”

The Union home ministry’s disaster management committee said it was not issuing a tsunami alert as that could lead to “unnecessary panic”, but it was keeping a close watch on the situation.

Joint secretary Ashim Khurana insisted that whatever rise in the water level had been seen was because of normal high tide.

Science and technology minister Kapil Sibal said there had been “no unusual activity” in the sea.

“Since there is no rise in the sea level for the past one-and-a-half hours, there is no justification to issue a tsunami warning,” Sibal said.

“I spoke to naval authorities and they said there is no unexpected rise in the sea level and there is also no other untoward activities.”

Asked about the tsunami warning issued by Thailand, the minister said, “If they have issued a warning, then it does not mean we will also issue a warning.”

In Calcutta, residents of Dum Dum and Garia said they felt the ground shake. The Alipore Meteorological Office said it recorded some mild aftershocks.

There was some panic in coastal Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, which had suffered heavily in the December tsunami.

“There was no tsunami warning, we are on high alert. But there is nothing to worry,” said Cuddalore district collector Gagandip Singh Bedi.

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