A trauma relived: Women cry on a street in Banda Aceh after a strong earthquake struck off Aceh province on Wednesday. The powerful 8.5 magnitude earthquake and strong aftershocks sent people as far away as southern India scurrying from buildings and raising fears of a repeat of the disastrous 2004 tsunami. Reuters/Junaidi HanafiahPeople in several cities in Sumatra fled for high ground on fears that a tsunami would strike after powerful earthquakes struck offshore Aceh on Wednesday.
There were two major temblors: a magnitude-8.5 quake epicentered about 10 kilometers southwest of Simeulue Island at 3:38 p.m. and an magnitude-8.1 quake about 360 kilometers from Simeulue at 5:43 p.m., the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) reported.
The agency issued a tsunami alert for Aceh, North Sumatra, West Sumatra, Lampung and Bengkulu.
In Banda Aceh, people remembered the monstrous 2004 tsunami that struck the province, taking to pedicabs, cars, motorcycles and bicycles to get as far away from the coast as possible.
“I am so scared. This is the biggest earthquake after the  Nias earthquake,” Hafsah, a Banda Aceh resident, told The Jakarta Post.
Hafsah, in tears, said that the cellular phone network was apparently overwhelmed and she was not able to contact her husband and son.
Syamsiah, a resident of Sigli, shared a similar sentiment. “It has been eight years since the tsunami catastrophe in Aceh, and we are still traumatized.”
The woman said she and her family had fled without a specific destination in mind. She ended riding her bicycle about 5 kilometers from the sea.
Television stations were broadcasting images of traffic jams in Aceh. One station showed people flocking to a mosque, while inside, a woman raised her hands in prayer. Others looked nervously through the mosque’s pillars to the street.
Officials later announced that the quakes did not cause a tsunami and told people to return home.
In Jakarta, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said that he had instructed National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) chief Syamsul Maarif to personally monitor the situation in Aceh.
“There has been no tsunami threat, but we are on alert. The BNPB chief has flown to Aceh along with his team, and the situation is under control,” Yudhoyono said at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon as quoted by Antara news agency.
Although no fatalities or significant damage was reported, the quakes did cause power and telecommunications disruptions.
In North Sumatra, for example, damage to the Belawan power plant caused blackouts in several areas as state power company PLN reported losing about 230 Megawatts of capacity at the plant.
Residents were relieved that their tsunami fears did not materialize.
“Allah is still protecting us, despite the strong quakes. Thank God, nothing has happened up to now,” Darmili, a resident of Simeulue, said over the telephone.
Darmili said that local residents had fled to high ground after the quakes out of fears that a tsunami would strike.
“The majority of residents of Semeulue, including me and my family, evacuated to the hills,” he said.
In Padang, West Sumatra, people living along the coastline ran as soon as they heard the tsunami warning, which was announced over local radio and television stations and by early-warning siren.
Reports said that electricity poles, parked cars and motorcycles were shaken throughout the province.
At M Dhamil Hospital, patients and visitors fled after one temblor rocked the hospital for almost a minute.
The quakes also raised the alarm along nations bordering the Indian Ocean.
Reuters reported that Kenya and Tanzania issued tsunami warnings along their eastern Indian Ocean coastlines. Some 164 people were killed and more than 2,300 were displaced in Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Seychelles, and Somalia after the disastrous 2004 Aceh tsunami.
That tsunami, triggered by a 9.1-magnitude, crashed into Sumatra, where 170,000 people were killed.
In all, the 2004 tsunami killed about 230,000 people in 13 Indian Ocean countries, including Thailand, Sri Lanka and India.
Two aftershocks hit Aceh at 4:28 p.m. and at 5:09 p.m. on Wednesday, following a magnitude-8.5 earthquake that shook the area at 3:38 p.m. The epicenters of the aftershocks were 42 kilometers off the Indian Ocean coast and 492 kilometers northwest off Simeuleu, Aceh, respectively.
Apriadi Gunawan and Syofiardi Bachyul JB contributed reporting from Medan and Padang.