An earthquake off western Indonesia has prompted warnings of a tsunami across the Indian Ocean region, meteorological agencies have said.
An underwater earthquake with a magnitude of 7.9 hit at about 6:10 pm (1110 GMT) on Wednesday, the US Geological Survey said. An Indonesian offical said a tsunami was possible after the quake.
The quake struck 105km southwest of Bengkulu on Sumatra, Indonesia, at a depth of 15.6km, it said. There are no immediate reports of casualties
Reports that a small tsunami hit Padang province in Sumatra about two hours after the earthquake have been denied by the Indonesian meterological agency.
Two smaller quakes were registered approximately two hours after the main earthquake, registering 6.1 and 5.7 on the Richter scale.
Several bulidings in Padang province in western Sumatra have been heavily damaged or destroyed.
"Earthquakes of this size have the potential to generate a widespread destructive tsunami that can affect coastlines across the entire Indian Ocean Basin," the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said.
The centre said that waves could strike Indonesia and Australia within an hour, with India and Sri Lanka possibly hit within three hours.
Indonesia's meterological agency isssued a tsunami alert shortly after the quake but later withdrew it, with the head of the agency saying that the threat of a tsunami striking Indonesia had passed.
India's government issued a tsunami alert for the Andaman Islands, while Malaysia warning people to stay away from beaches.
Sri Lanka also issued an alert for its north, south and eastern districts following the quake, the National Disaster Management Centre said.
"We have issued a warning for the south, north and east after the quake," Keerthi Ekanayake, an official at the centre, said.
People at Bengkulu ran inland as the quake occurred. The shock could also be felt in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.
Buildings collapsed in a town on the west coast of Sumatra after the earthquake, a police officer said.
Buildings of three storeys and higher either collapsed or cracked in Mukomuko, Budi Darmawan said. The town is located approximately 300 km from the quake's epicentre.
"Those with cracks are many, buildings of three floors or more are either fissured or collapsed," he said.
Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago, is located on the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin, and is prone to earthquakes.
In December 2004, a powerful earthquake triggered a tsunami off the coast of Sumatra that killed more than 131,000 in Indonesia's Aceh province.
Last Mod: 12 Eylül 2007, 16:52