Two magnitude-6.3 earthquakes in southern Asia struck eight hours apart yesterday, causing panic but little damage in a region still traumatized by last month's quake-triggered tsunami that killed tens of thousands.
A pre-dawn quake centered under Indonesia's Sulawesi island -- far to the east of where the much more powerful magnitude-9.0 temblor struck on Dec. 26 -- sent thousands of people running to higher ground in the city of Palu.
The epicenter of the earthquake was on land -- unlike last month's quake -- and caused no tsunami. About 30 wooden houses and some shops were damaged, police said.
"They were shouting `water, water' because they feared waves," said Dr. Riri Lamadjido, a physician at the city's main Undata Hospital, which received no injured patients as a result of the quake.
Later yesterday, panic briefly spread through the streets of the Indian coastal city of Madras after residents felt an earthquake centered in the Bay of Bengal, near the Andaman Islands.
Police said no damage or injuries were reported, but people could be seen running in the city after it was jolted.
Samuel Cherian, the senior police officer in Campbell Bay, the southernmost island in the Andaman archipelago, said: "I was sitting in my office upstairs this morning at 10:45 when I felt a sudden jolt. My sentry downstairs also felt it. But there is no damage to property or life."
The 6.3-magnitude quake hit near the islands at 9:52am, seismologists at the Hong Kong Observatory said. The epicenter was about 1,740km southeast of Calcutta.
The US Geological Survey reported that the earlier quake in Sulawesi, which occurred at 4:10am yesterday, also registered a magnitude of 6.3.
Further reflecting the jitters in the region less than a month after the disaster, thousands of people in western Thailand fled their homes early yesterday after rumors spread that an earthquake had cracked four major dams, which were about to burst.
The governor of Kanchanaburi province -- which was not hit by the Dec. 26 tsunami -- went on the radio and the head of the government agency in charge of dams held a news conference to try to reassure people that the rumors were false and urge them to return home.
The Dec. 26 quake off Indonesia's western Sumatra island triggered waves that killed anywhere from 162,000 to 228,000 people in 11 countries around the Indian Ocean.
Meanwhile, UN officials said the number of relief camps in Indonesia's Aceh province has dropped by about 75 percent in the past week.
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