By Uditha Jayasinghe
A relieved Government yesterday lifted a tsunami warning nearly four hours after a massive earthquake off Indonesia triggered mass panic in the Indian Ocean and resulted in electricity being cut off in coastal areas and transport coming to a halt.
|People stormed out of their office yesterday after tremors felt in the city and elsewhere in the country following the 8.7 magnitude earthquake Off West Coast of Northern Sumatra. Here employees outside the twin-tower World Trade Centre - Pic by Daminda Harsha Perera
Several steps were taken to deal with the potential emergency including evacuation orders to tourists on holiday in coastal areas and calling on all hotels to provide protection for their guests, the Government Information Department said.
The department issuing a statement quoted Sri Lanka Tourism “advising all hotels in coastal areas to take precautions for the safety of tourists.” In February Sri Lanka posted 83, 549 tourist arrivals with high numbers of tourists preferring the nation’s pristine beaches.
The tsunami warning was extended by three hours following an aftershock was felt of the Indonesian earthquake, the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) said in a statement.
DMC has already warned that a possible tsunami situation could happen in the eastern town of Poththuvil, Batticaloa, which was also hard hit during the 2004 tsunami. The port of Kirinde also saw a rise in sea levels but no danger was reported. The Colombo harbor operated as usual and with the aftershocks moved ships out to sea and their workers, particularly those working on the Colombo South harbor inland for safety.
Several areas in the capital and internal towns such as Dambulla felt tremors causing more panic, officials at the Met department told media.
Even though the possible tsunami was expected to reach the eastern coast at 4.10 there were no reports of such an occurrence, calming the situation.
Thousands of people were seen running for shelter without means of transport and people were agitated, largely due to lack of awareness on the progress of the potential tsunami. Fishermen in Dehiwala and other areas refused to leave their boats and were seen on the shore tying boats together, hours after warnings had gone out.
The government cancelled all leave for all hospital staff working in coastal hospitals and placed them on high alert, the health ministry said in a statement while the Red Cross also called all their volunteers to help with the evacuated.
The State Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) also disconnected electricity to all coastal areas to prevent breakouts of fire and other disasters following the tsunami warning.
Despite the all clear people have been urged to not venture out to sea. Police are out on patrols to maintain law and order.
|An officer from the disaster management committee announces to people living near the sea to leave their houses after the government announced a Tsunami warning in Colombo April 11, 2012. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte