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Page last updated at 14:43 GMT, Monday, 18 January 2010

Ghana text hoax predicting earthquake prompts panic

A man texting on his mobile phone
The text message panic kept thousands from their beds

False rumours of an impending earthquake caused fear and panic in Ghana overnight, prompting many people to sleep outside.

The rumour began on Sunday night with a text message quoting US space agency Nasa and the BBC as saying that "cosmic rays" were to hit the Earth.

By 0300 on Monday this was interpreted to mean an earthquake was imminent.

A government minister then sought to calm nationwide fears, telling local radio stations it was all a hoax.

Ghana last experienced a major earthquake 70 years ago.

But the BBC's David Amanor in the capital, Accra, says awareness of last week's devastating earthquake in Haiti may have made people more nervous.

'No iota of evidence'

The first text message that started doing the rounds on Sunday said: "Today's night 12:30 to 3:30am COSMO RAYS entering earth from Mars. Switch off ur mobiles today's night.?NASA BBC NEWS ? Plz pass to all ur friends."

We are scared right now
BBC listener Opoku Ware Cyprian

At 0400 GMT Deputy Information Minister Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa phoned our correspondent to check if the BBC had indeed broadcast an earthquake warning, as there was a "national panic".

He than carried out a series of interviews on local radio stations to dispel the rumours.

"There is no iota of scientific evidence in that - somebody has just pulled a prank on the nation," Mr Ablakwa told Ghana's Joy FM station.

Just before 0500, the BBC's Network Africa also told its listeners about the hoax after receiving worried texts from listeners.

"We are scared right now many people a[re] standing outside because we have receive messages across the country that there is going to be an earthquake some said is from BBC," Opoku Ware Cyprian texted from Kumasi at 0349 GMT.

Our correspondent says many people across the country - both in urban and rural areas - did not sleep.

He said his neighbours were standing outside their homes at 0400 fearing that buildings would collapse.

Phone networks were also congested as people sought to warn each other, he said.

It is not known whether the hoax was a result of deliberate mischief, a simple innocuous message, or a joke between friends.

But our reporter says the implications are being taken seriously and the incident has reopened a controversial call by Ghana's National Security Authority for phone operators to register names and details for every mobile phone number in the country.



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