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Indonesia Lifts Tsunami Warning After Powerful Earthquake

7.8 Earthquake Felt Near Sumatra 0:31

A powerful and shallow 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck off the Indonesian island of Sumatra Wednesday, but fears of significant damage subsided after initial tsunami warnings were canceled.

The U.S. Geological Service said the temblor was centered "in the ocean" at a depth of 6.2 miles, putting its epicenter at 500 miles southwest of Padang, the capital of West Sumatra province.

A spokesman for Basarnas, Indonesia's national search and rescue organization, told NBC News there had been panic in some areas after the quake but no reported deaths.

Shallow earthquakes tend to cause more damage. However no damage has been reported and a tsunami alert was canceled, said Andi Eka Sakya, head of Indonesia's Agency for Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics.

"In the southern tip of Sumatra no one felt anything, and in Bengkulu they only felt a small vibration, like a small car passing in front of their house," he told NBC News.

Australia also issued, then canceled, a tsunami watch for its western coasts.

Mingming Evora, country director for Indonesia for charity Plan International, said people were already going back to their homes.

"There has been no major damage reported," she said. "In fact, the only problem so far was traffic jams because people rushed to the center of the islands in their cars, but it is getting back to normal now."

"People are just so relieved, and so are we."

A 7.9 to 8.1 magnitude quake would "easily" be the strongest so far this year and the strongest worldwide since Chile in September 2015, according to NBC News meteorologist William Karins.

Indonesia straddles the so-called "Pacific Ring of Fire," a highly seismically active zone that was badly hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.