A powerful earthquake has sent jitters around the southern Pacific Ocean after authorities warned of possible tsunamis, but there were no initial reports of destructive waves or major damage.
The magnitude 7.5 quake hit near the French territory of New Caledonia at a shallow depth, where earthquakes are generally more damaging, and was felt as far away as Vanuatu, about 390 miles away.
Tsunami sirens blared across New Caledonia minutes after the quake. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said waves of 3ft to 10ft were possible along some coasts of New Caledonia and Vanuatu, before later lifting the warning.
The #tsunami threat from the 7.6 magnitude #earthquake southeast of the Loyalty Islands has now largely passed. Minor sea level fluctuations up to 0.3 m may continue over the next few hours. #PTWChttps://t.co/KjmvC2yZGe— NWS PTWC (@NWS_PTWC) December 5, 2018
Authorities in New Caledonia ordered residents to evacuate coastal zones on the eastern edge of the archipelago, including the Loyalty Islands and the island of Ile des Pins.
The evacuation order from regional police said western islands did not need to evacuate but should remain vigilant.
No damage was immediately reported, according to Vincent Lepley, crisis co-ordinator for the Red Cross in New Caledonia.
Judith Rostain, a freelance journalist based in New Caledonia’s capital Noumea, said there was no damage to the city. She said the situation remained unclear on the east coast and scattered outer islands.
In Vanuatu, Dan McGarry said he heard only of three small wave surges hitting the southern island of Aneityum.
Mr McGarry, media director at the Vanuatu Daily Post, said the waves travelled only 7ft beyond the normal tide, and everybody was fine on the island.
He said he felt the quake where he is based in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, as a mild shaking.
“We get a lot of earthquakes every year,” he said. “The tsunami warning was what was different this time though.”
The warning centre said there was no tsunami threat to Hawaii.
Prelim M6.6 Earthquake southeast of the Loyalty Islands Dec-05 06:43 UTC, updates https://t.co/3ZdCjPW0u7— USGS Big Quakes (@USGSBigQuakes) December 5, 2018
According to the US Geological Survey, the quake struck about 100 miles east of Tadine in New Caledonia at a depth of six miles. At least six aftershocks also hit, ranging in magnitude from 5.6 to 6.6.
The populations of Vanuatu and New Caledonia are similar, with just over 280,000 people in each archipelago.
Last month, voters in New Caledonia elected to remain a territory of France rather than becoming independent. New Caledonia and Vanuatu sit on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, the arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where most of the world’s earthquakes and volcanic activity occur.
- Press Association