The Tamil Nadu government has issued a tsunami alert to the administration of coastal districts from Chennai to Kanyakumari.

This follows an alert received from the Indian Tsunami Early Warning Centre (ITEWC) of the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS).

The tsunami bulletin number two states that an investigation is under way to determine if a tsunami has been triggered. The ITEWC would monitor seal level gauges and report if any tsunami wave activity had occurred.

This was preceded by the occurrence of an earthquake of 8.6 magnitude on the Richter scale at 2:08 p.m of Indian Standard Time. [However, the INCOIS website states that the magnitude was 8.7] The epicentre was 435 km south west of Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, according to the website of the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

According to the ITEWC bulletin, the coastal areas – Chennai, Cuddalore, Mamallapuram, Nagapattinam and Kudankulam – come under the threat status of “alert,” which means that people should avoid going to beaches and low-lying areas. Vessels should move into deep ocean. The forecasted arrival time for Cuddalore is 4:33 p.m; Mamallapuram – 4:40 p.m.; Nagapattinam – 4:43 p.m.; Chennai – 4:48 p.m. and Kudankulam – 5:16 p.m. Other coastal areas - Tuticorin, Rameswaram and Kanyakumari – have been assigned the threat status of “watch,” which means no immediate action is required.

Only Indira Point of the Indira Point Great-Little Nicobar Island, Komatra and Katchal Island and Car Nicobar have been given the threat status of warning [which means that the public should move in land towards higher grounds].

Operations at Chennai Port were brought to a halt at 3:40 p.m.

Immediately after the occurrence of the quake, many areas felt the impact. Those who were at the offices came out and remained outdoors for sometime.

Our Corresspondent S. Vijay Kumar adds:

Minutes after tremors in Chennai and some other parts of the State, top officials were huddled in meetings trying to reach out to meteorological centre and disaster management agencies to know of the actual situation, police sources said.

Around 3 p.m. an alert was issued to coastal districts asking villagers living along the coast to move towards safety. Fishermen were told not to venture into the sea.

In Chennai, the tremors were felt shortly after 2 p.m. Students in many schools were moved from classrooms to playgrounds.

Anxious parents who rushed to schools were allowed to take their children home. Immediately after the tremors were felt, traffic congestion was seen in many roads. Most of the mobile phone networks were down.

No tsunami alert

Commodore Amar K. Mahadevan, Naval Officer-in-charge (Tamil Nadu and Puducherry) told The Hindu that there was no specific alert of tsunami. “There is no alert of tsunami as such... we are informed that a huge wave may hit the coast around 4.30 p.m. Navy ships are engaged in advising fishermen to remain in deep seas as the impact would be more towards the coast. Several ships are kept in standby for use in the event of any emergency,” he said.

Inspector General and Commander Coast Guard (Easter Region) Satya Prakash Sharma said fishermen at the sea were safer than those in the harbour. “We are on high alert though there is no input of a tsunami impact…we are in touch with all our detachments.”

Collectors and Superintendents of Police in coastal districts were told to keep contingency plans ready in the event of a tsunami impact. After a meeting with intelligence agencies, State Director General of Police K. Ramanujam rushed to the Secretariat for a meeting with the Chief Secretary and others, police sources said and added that many private offices along the East Coast Road and Rajiv Gandhi Salai were told their employees to vacate the buildings.

G. Narayanan, Additional General Manager of Southern Railway G. Narayanan said trains running through the coastal districts of Cuddalore, Thanjavur, Nagapattinam, Ramanathapuram and Puducherry were told to move in slow speed. “Trains will be regulated if necessary…instructions have been given to run the trains in slow speed so that they can be stopped in the event of an emergency,” Dr. Narayanan said.