updated 10/24/2007 6:18:23 PM ET 2007-10-24T22:18:23

A powerful earthquake rocked western Indonesia on Thursday, prompting local authorities to issue a tsunami warning and sending panicked residents fleeing from their homes.

The quake had a preliminary magnitude of 7.1 and struck 85 miles west of Bengkulu, a coastal town off Sumatra island, the U.S. Geological Survey said. It hit 18 miles beneath the ocean floor.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said there was a small possibility that the tremor could trigger a destructive, local tsunami.

Residents in Bengkulu — still rattled following a series of powerful quakes that struck the region last month, killing 23 and destroying hundreds of buildings — fled their homes, el-Shinta radio reported.

Some grabbed their families and belongings and jumped into cars or onto motorcycles, it said.

Suhardjono, a senior official at Indonesia's Meteorological and Geophysics Agency told el-Shinta the quake was part of a series of aftershocks that have rattled the region since an 8.4-magnitude temblor struck Sept. 12.

Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago, with a population of 235 million people, is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location on the "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.

A magnitude-9 earthquake that hit off the coast of Sumatra on Dec. 26, 2004, triggered a tsunami that killed or left missing more than 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Indonesia.

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