Tsunami Rumour Kills One In Aceh

Banda Aceh. Rumors of an approaching tsunami sparked scenes of pandemonium on Friday in northern Aceh, leaving one person dead and raising questions about the province’s ability to respond to a crisis more than six years after deadly waves killed nearly 200,000 people here.

Thousands of residents in Pante Raja, Trieng Gadeng, Mereudu and Jangka Buya subdistricts in Pidie Jaya dropped everything and fled for higher ground after hearing rumors of an approaching tsunami.

In the ensuing chaos, Manaib, 58, died of a heart attack while fleeing with other residents of Kembang Tanjong village, according to the village chief, Jufrizal.

Manaib was a resident of Meuraxa village in Central Aceh when then tsunami swept through the area in 2004.

M. Gade Salam, the head of Pidie Jaya district, told the Jakarta Globe that people may have mistaken the high tide as a sign of an impending tsunami.

“People got scared because lots of them are still traumatized by the 2004 tsunami,” he said.

About 170,000 people died in Aceh following the Indian Ocean tsunami, which devastated the province’s west coast.

During Friday’s scare, a massive traffic jam formed on the main road from Banda Aceh to Medan. Gade said the mass of people trying to flee caused numerous traffic accidents. “It is not clear how many people exactly were injured in the accidents, but there was utter chaos,” he said.

Gade said he went to the shore to check on the rumors because hoax messages about tsunamis had been circulated in the past.

“Soon after, I made an announcement using the PA to assure residents that there was no tsunami and call for calm,” he said. “I explained that the tide was indeed higher but that was caused by the position of the moon.”

Gade said coverage of the aftermath of last week’s tsunami in Japan had residents on edge.

Ismail, from Pante Raja, said people began to panic after they saw water seeping into their homes, some of which are less than 100 meters from the shore.

No flood damage has been reported, however.

“Lots of people ran to the hills, some went to get their children from school,” Ismail said.

In neighboring Pidie district, one person reportedly jumped from the second story of his house and suffered a broken leg after seeing people fleeing in panic. He is being treated at Sigli General Hospital.

Villagers in Pusong, Lhokseumawe district, also reported someone had driven through their village yelling that a tsunami was coming.