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(AP) A tsunami watch was issued for countries across the Indian Ocean on Wednesday after a large earthquake hit waters off Indonesia, sending residents pouring from their homes in panic.


The U.S. Geological Survey said the 8.7-magnitude quake was centered 20 miles (33 kilometers) beneath the ocean floor around 269 miles (434 kilometers) from Aceh's provincial capital.


The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said a tsunami watch was in effect for Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Australia, Myanmar, Thailand, the Maldives and other Indian Ocean islands, Malaysia, Pakistan, Somalia, Oman, Iran, Bangladesh, Kenya, South Africa and Singapore.


A tsunami watch means there is the potential for a tsunami, not that one is imminent.


Said, an official at Indonesia's Meteorology and Geophysics Agency who goes by only one name, said a tsunami warning has been issued for cities all along the coast of Sumatra island.


The tremor was felt in Singapore, Thailand, Bangladesh, Malaysia and India. High-rise apartments and offices on Malaysia's west coast shook for at least a minute.


People in Banda Aceh screamed "God is great!" as they jumped into cars and the backs of motorcycles, clogging streets as they fled to high ground.


Thailand's National Disaster Warning Center issued an evacuation order to residents in six provinces along the country's west coast, including the popular tourist destinations of Phuket, Krabi and Phang-Nga.


Indonesia straddles a series of fault lines that makes the vast island nation prone to volcanic and seismic activity.


A giant 9.1-magnitude quake off the country on Dec. 26, 2004, triggered a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed 230,000 people, nearly three quarter of them in Aceh.


Associated Press
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