– A huge wave-generating quake capable of killing as many people as in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami could strike off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and the city of Padang is in the firing line, a team of seismologists said on Sunday.
The group -- led by a prominent scientist who predicted a 2005 Sumatran quake with uncanny accuracy -- issued the warning in a letter to the journal Nature Geoscience.
The peril comes from a relentless buildup of pressure over the last two centuries on a section of the Sunda Trench, one of the world's most notorious earthquake zones, which runs parallel to the western Sumatra coast, they said.
This section, named after the Mentawai islands, "is near failure," the letter warned bluntly.
"The threat of a great tsunamigenic earthquake with a magnitude of more than 8.5 on the Mentawai patch is unabated. (...) There is potential for loss of life on the scale of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami."
The letter gave no timeframe for this event but warned starkly of the danger for Padang, a city of 850,000 people that lies broadside to the risky segment.
"The threat from such an event is clear and the need for urgent mitigating action remains extremely high," it said.
More than 220,000 people lost their lives in the killer wave of December 26 2004 when a 9.3-magnitude earthquake, occurring farther north on the Sunda Trench, ruptured the boundary where the Australian plate of Earth's crust plunges beneath the Eurasian plate.