Malaysia urges people to keep away from beaches

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian authorities on Wednesday issued a tsunami alert for the country's western coastline and warned citizens to stay away from the shore following a massive earthquake in the Indian Ocean.

"We have issued a tsunami alert. We urge people to keep away from the beach in (the states of) Kedah, Perlis, Langkawi, Penang and Perak," Che Gayah Ismail, deputy director-general of the Malaysian Meteorological Department, told AFP.

"People are advised to keep away from the beaches. It is not an evacuation order."

She said she wanted to clarify an earlier statement by a department official who had mistakenly said an evacuation order was issued.

The earthquake struck off Indonesia's Sumatra island, triggering an Indian Ocean-wide tsunami alert.

The quake's magnitude was 8.6, according to a revised reading from the US Geological Survey, and struck 431 kilometres (268 miles) off the Indonesian city of Banda Aceh where terrified residents poured into the streets.

The city was near the epicentre of a devastating 9.1-magnitude quake in 2004 that triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean which killed 220,000 people, including 170,000 in Aceh province which lies on the northern tip of Sumatra.

Malaysian state news agency Bernama said residents reported feeling the quake across the country, including in the capital Kuala Lumpur.

It added that fearful residents in some areas of the northern state of Perlis rushed from their apartment blocks.

The quake was also felt as far afield as Thailand. India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand have also have issued alerts or evacuation orders.

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