Indonesia Rocked by Powerful Quakes

BENGKULU, Indonesia -- Indonesia's Sumatra island was pounded by aftershocks Thursday after an enormous earthquake toppled hundreds of buildings, killing at least 10 people and burying many others in the wreckage.

Tsunami warnings were repeatedly issued and lifted for Indian Ocean countries after the magnitude 8.4 earthquake -- the biggest anywhere in the world this year -- was followed over the next 18 hours by 22 tremors in the same area ranging in intensity from 4.9 to 7.8.

A separate earthquake was reported off Indonesia's Sulawesi island, to the east of Sumatra. Indonesia's meteorology agency put the magnitude of the quake at 6.4, at a depth of 30 kilometers and issued a tsunami warning but soon lifted it.

An Australian seismologist said the region was lucky to have escaped a devastating tsunami after the Sumatra quake similar to the one triggered by the 2004 temblor that killed more than 280,000 people.

"There was a tsunami created by the earthquake, it just traveled in a southwest direction away from land," said Mike Turnbull a professor at Central Queensland University.

The initial quake -- which took place on the eve of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and was felt in neighboring Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand -- cut communication lines and sparked widespread panic in the hours that followed.

But by Thursday evening, it appeared that the region might have been spared a major disaster.

"We are grateful for the fact that the situation wasn't as bad as we initially thought it would be," said Muhammad Syamlan, vice governor of Bengkulu province, whose capital, Bengkulu, was close to the epicenter of the quake.