(Abdilla ~ Associated Press)
Frightened people fled their homes and ran inland, fearing a repeat of the 2004 earthquake and tsunami that struck a dozen nations around the Indian Ocean, killing an estimated 230,000 people.
"Everyone is running out of their houses in every direction," Wati Said reported by cell phone from Bengkulu, a town 80 miles from the quake's epicenter. "We think our neighborhood is high enough. God willing, if the water comes, it will not touch us here. ... Everyone is afraid."
One witness, Budi Darmawan, said a three-story building near his office fell. "I saw it with my own eyes," he told El Shinta radio.
The 8.4-magnitude quake was felt in at least four countries, with tall buildings swaying in cities up to 1,200 miles away. The tremor was followed by a series of strong aftershocks, further rattling residents.
Telephone lines and electricity were disrupted across a large swath of Indonesia, making it difficult to get information about damage and casualties.
Suhardjono, a senior official with the local meteorological agency who like most Indonesians uses only one name, said a small tsunami, perhaps 3-feet high, struck the city of Padang about 20 minutes after the quake. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center also reported a small wave.
Most damage appeared to come from the ground-shaking of the tremor.
Two people died when a car dealership collapsed in Padang and another was killed by a fire that broke out on the fourth floor of a damaged department store, a witness, Alfin, said by phone. Excavation machinery was being used to search the rubble for survivors, he said.
The Health Ministry said two people died in Bengkulu. The Social Affairs Department said seven had been killed in and around the town. The differing tallies could not be reconciled immediately.
At least 194 people were injured in Bengkulu, reported Amin Kurnia, a doctor who said most were being treated in a compound outside the hospital because its walls were cracked.
The undersea temblor hit around 6:10 p.m. at a depth of 18 miles, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
In Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, hundreds of miles from the epicenter, office workers streamed down stairwells as tall office buildings swayed. High-rises also were affected in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning for wide areas of the region, saying "earthquakes of this size have the potential to generate a widespread destructive tsunami that can affect coastlines across the entire Indian Ocean Basin."