A huge earthquake has struck about 150 kilometers off the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The quake has sparked deadly tsunami waves that have hit such diverse places as Sri Lanka and Thailand. Hundreds of people are reported dead in Asia with casualty figures rising.
The huge earthquake, which the United States Geological Survey website says measured 8.5 on the Richter scale, hit early Sunday morning about 7AM local time off the East Coast of Indonesia's northernmost Sumatra Island.
It has sparked a tsunami, or tidal wave, in the Indian Ocean that hit coastal regions of Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Thailand, swamping thousands of people and washing away many homes.
The full extent of damage and casualties are still unclear in all affected Asian countries.
A Indonesian government spokesman told VOA Sunday morning President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ordered civil and military authorities to do everything in their power to rescue survivors.
The deadly earthquake off is among the strongest ever recorded.
According the the U.S. Geological Survey, the world has experienced only seven earthquakes since 1900 more powerful than the 8.5 Richter scale magnitude quake that rocked the island of Sumatra early Sunday.
The massive jolt - in seismologists' terms, "a great earthquake" - was followed by a series of strong aftershocks over an area ranging from northern Sumatra to the Indian Ocean's Andaman and Nicobar islands, west of Thailand. The seismic activity in the area continued for several hours, with strong aftershocks measuring between 5.8 and 7.3 on the Richter scale.
Indonesia's more than 17,000 islands are in the so-called "Ring of Fire," an area of considerable seismic and volcanic activity where tectonic plates of the Earth's crust collide.