Strong Earthquake Hits Near Sumatra

A strong, undersea earthquake hit Sunday near the Indonesian island of Sumatra (search), causing people to flee their homes in fear of a tsunami like the one that devastated the island in December, seismologists said.

The 6.8-magnitude tremor's epicenter was about 70 miles southwest of Padang, a city in western Sumatra, the Hong Kong Observatory (search) said. The temblor was not strong enough to cause a tsunami, meteorologists said.

"Many people in Padang are panicking," said Yusuf, an official from Indonesia's Geophysics and Meteorology Agency (search) who uses only one name. "People have left their houses, especially those living on the coast."

Tremors from the earthquake were felt in several areas surrounding the Malaysian city of Kuala Lumpur, national meteorological chief Chow Kok Kee told TV 3 news.

The quake was recorded at 5:29 p.m. (6:29 a.m. EDT) in the Kepulauan Mentawai region, the U.S. Geological Survey said. There have been no reports of damage, USGS spokeswoman Clarice Ransom said.

Sumatra was devastated by the Dec. 26 tsunami and earthquake that killed nearly 183,000 people in 11 countries and left another 129,000 missing.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, was the hardest hit with at least 126,000 people killed and more than 500,000 left homeless, mostly in Aceh province on Sumatra.

The region has experienced regular aftershocks since. On March 28, an 8.7-magnitude quake hit a string of islands off Sumatra, killing at least 647 people.