NEW CALEDONIA: A powerful 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck near New Caledonia yesterday, triggering a tsunami alert and emergency evacuations across a swathe of the South Pacific, but there were no reports of serious damage or injuries.
Authorities said the quake, followed by at least 20 strong aftershocks, was centered about 170 kilometres (100 miles) southeast of New Caledonia’s Loyalty Islands at a depth of just 10 kilometres.
Island residents said the initial quake shook the walls of buildings and in places turned the sea foamy. Tsunami waves were recorded moving out from the epicenter, prompting people to flee to high ground.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center initially warned surges of up to three metres (10 feet) could be expected and shallow quakes of that magnitude can be devastating.
But the centre later reported waves measured by its monitors around the region only reached about 72 centimetres (2.4 feet) on the island of Tanna, Vanuatu.
Civil defence officials in Noumea said tsunami waves hit parts of the Loyalty Islands and the Isle of Pines, but caused no damage.
“Reports from the area confirm that the strength of the tsunami has fallen significantly and there is no longer a major risk for the population,” said a spokesman for the civil defence department.
“There have been no injuries or damage,” he said.
Almost three hours after the quake, the Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported the threat stemming from the initial quake “has now passed”. —Agencies