Panic, Confusion in Banda Aceh

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Women clutching children ran into the darkened streets, crying and praying. Some held onto a fence to steady themselves, chanting "Allahu Akbar," or "God is Great." Other people grabbed small bags of clothes and fled their tents and homes for higher ground.

The shaking and swaying was gentle but lasted a full two minutes — far longer than most of the frequent aftershocks that have rocked Banda Aceh (search) since Dec. 26, when a huge earthquake triggered a tsunami that wiped out more than 126,000 people in Indonesia's Aceh province and left more than 400,000 homeless.

Then, there was little warning of the tsunami (search) which followed the quake. This time, people were taking no chances of a repeat.

"People are still traumatized, still scared, they are running for higher ground," said Feri, a 24-year-old recovery volunteer who goes by one name.

Others, however, were fatalistic.

In Uleelhe, one of the low-lying Banda Aceh neighborhoods worst hit by the disaster three months ago, a man rushed to the local mosque.

"Where can I go, you can't outrun a tsunami," said the man, who would not give his name.

There was no sign of fresh damage.

The quake, which struck at 11:09 p.m. Monday as many people were sleeping, knocked out electricity. Flickering camp fires and motorbike and car headlights provided the only illumination across Banda Aceh, the provincial capital.

People ran out into the streets, wearing prayer shawls, a sarong (search), sleeping garments.

Many were carrying small bags of clothes — in many cases likely all the belongings they had left after the Dec. 26 disaster — as they fled.

Quickly, the city's main roads became clogged with traffic — motorbikes, pickup trucks loaded down with entire families.

One police vehicle was seen driving around and telling people not to panic, but there was nobody telling people where to go. Most police officers stood around, seemingly not knowing what to do. There appeared to be no organized effort to issue warnings or information.

At the biggest refugee camp in Banda Aceh, people milled around the streets near the local television network, known as TVRI. Others huddled around television sets in cafes for news.

After some time, a voice on the camp intercom announced that people could return to their tents and that there was no tsunami.

Television images later showed a man yelling into a megaphone. This time, the man shouted, there was no tsunami. People could go back to their homes.