Following the tremor, they rushed out of their buildings and tried to reach higher ground, as the quake was felt strongly and had raised memories of the deadly tsunami that had devastated Aceh in December 2004. One of the locals even said she felt the earthquake had been stronger than that of 2004.
However, this time, there was no tsunami after the tremor, which the US Geological Survey said struck just offshore at a depth of 8km.
Indonesias Meteorological, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) reported that the epicenter of the 6.5-magnitude earthquake was at 5.19 degrees northern latitude and 96.36 degrees eastern longitude, at a depth of 10km on land, some 18km northeast of Pidie Jaya, or 106km southeast of Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh Province.
BMKG said the quakes intensity was a VII-VIII MMI (Marcelli Modified Intensity) in Pidie Jaya.
It also recorded 74 aftershocks that were felt by inhabitants of the districts of Pidie Jaya, Pidie, Aceh Besar, Sabang, Bireun, and Lhokseumawe.
The tremors have traumatized locals who are reluctant to stay indoors.
A total of 103 deaths have been confirmed so far. Some 8 thousand inhabitants were seriously or slightly injured in the disaster, and they were evacuated to receive medical treatment.
The victims are residents of the sub-districts of Pante Raja, Bandar Dua, Tringgadeng, Meureudu, Bandar Baru, and Alee Glee.
Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa promised to help heal victims who have been traumatized by the disaster.
Indonesia, the worlds largest archipelago, is prone to earthquakes due to its location on the Pacific "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.
Aceh lies on the northern tip of Sumatra Island, which is particularly prone to quakes. And for the Acehnese, the latest quake was another terrifying reminder of their regions vulnerability to natural disasters.
The most powerful one in recent years was an 8.9-magnitude earthquake that triggered a gigantic tsunami in Aceh and Nias Island (North Sumatra Province), which left some 200 thousand people dead or missing and one million others homeless, on December 26, 2004.
Meanwhile, the latest earthquake prompted President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and several relevant ministers to visit the affected regions, particularly in the Pidie Jaya and Pidie districts.
Jokowi ordered the reconstruction of the few mosques destroyed in the tremor.
"I have seen the condition of the mosque and have decided that it will be rebuilt jointly, starting tomorrow," Jokowi noted after visiting At Taurrub Mosque in Trienggadeng Sub-district, Pidie Jaya, on Dec 9, 2016.
A number of children greeted the president by singing the song "Who Owns Jokowi," led by Kak Seto Mulyadi, a prominent activist for the protection of children, in the front yard of the mosque.
The Social Affairs Ministry has set up an emergency response command post in the yard.
Children should be kept happy and singing, the president stressed.
In Pidie Jaya alone, of the existing 71 mosques, 29 were seriously damaged and 28 others slightly damaged in the natural disaster.
Jokowi also visited Tengku Chik Ditiro Regional Hospital in Sigli, Pidie District, to meet wounded victims.
Flanked by Health Minister Nila F Moeloek, National Police Chief General Tito Karnavian, Public Works and Public Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono, acting Governor of Aceh Sudarmo and Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung, among others, Jokowi was greeted by the hospital management upon his arrival.
"More than 400 victims of the earthquake in Pidie Jaya District have been treated by doctors at the Sigli hospital," Director of Tengku Chik Ditiro Hospital Dentist Mohd Riza Faisal Mars said, adding that most of the victims suffered broken bones, bruises, and minor injuries.
Based on data from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), there are 45,329 evacuees, with 43,613 of them now in Pidie Jaya, and 1,716 in Bireuen.
At least 108 shop houses had collapsed, 31 were heavily damaged, three moderately and 15 lightly damaged, while 2,992 homes had been heavily damaged, 94 moderately and 8,582 lightly damaged.
Some 64 mosques and other buildings had been damaged, while 14,800m of roads had cracked, and 55 bridges sustained damage.
Some 3,962 personnel have helped in handling earthquake victims in Pidie Jaya, Pidie, and Bireuen, according to BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho in a press statement on Dec 10.
In addition, hundreds of police and military officers have also been deployed to help the evacuation and debris clearance processes.
The social affairs ministry has set up nine refugee camps. One is in Rieng Blang Village, Meureudu Sub-district, accommodating 500 people, while others are in West Meuraksa Village, Meureudu Sub-district (800 people); Paru Lueng Putu Village, Bandar Dua Sub-district (700 people).
Also Meunasah Bi and Mancang villages, Meurah Dua Sub-district (800 people); Meunasah Balik Village, Meuereudu Sub-district (3 thousand people); Pangwa Me, Trienggadeng Sub-district (600 people); and Pante Reng Samalanga (1.1 thousand people), as well as Meunasah Juroeng Village (1.3 thousand people) and Trienggadeng Village (700 people), both in Pidie Jaya.
The Pidie Jaya earthquake caused extensive damage because it was generated by a strike-slip fault movement, Gayatri Indah Marliyani, an expert on earthquakes at the Gadjah Mada University of Yogyakarta, stated.
A strike-slip fault movement means a more horizontal shift of the ground has taken place under the sea as opposed to a sudden vertical shift, and there is less risk of a large displacement of water triggering a tsunami, Marliyani explained.
"As a result, the high energy shockwave becomes destructive when it reaches the surface," Marliyani remarked.
In the meantime, the BNPB has stressed the importance of constructing earthquake-resistant buildings in the country, considering that some 148.4 million Indonesians live in earthquake-prone areas.
Many fatalities occur during earthquakes due to collapsing buildings, Nugroho noted.
"Unfortunately, many houses have yet to be designed as earthquake-resistant buildings because it would entail 30 to 50 percent higher construction costs," Nugroho added.
Therefore, he said, the government will have to provide incentives for such buildings, which require specific skills and an understanding of geospatial matters to avoid building houses around an active fault.