A tsunami warning in the Pacific has been lifted after a 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck on Friday, sending many islanders fleeing coastal areas.
The quake hit at 0257 GMT, prompting people on multiple South Pacific islands to race to higher ground as sirens warned of possible hazardous waves.
“Based on all available data the tsunami threat from this earthquake has now passed,” the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said in a statement.
It forecasted “minor sea level fluctuations” over the next few hours.
The Honolulu-based body had earlier issued tsunami warnings for coastal areas within 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) of the epicentre, which lay east of the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia.
Vanuatu had been identified as the island threatened with the largest waves from the quake.
Benie Simo, a local tour operator on Mystery Island in Vanuatu, said he received a government warning via text message to evacuate and moved to higher ground.
The waves, he said, were coming up “really high”, describing them as being about one to two metres (three to six feet) tall and noting that so far there were no reports of damage.
“People are just doing exactly what they’re being told… So they’re just going up to the higher ground until they’re told it’s all safe to come back down,” he said.
“Got to be cautious, and people just follow the protocols.”
Vanuatu authorities called on residents to evacuate coastal areas lower than 12 metres above sea level and within 300 metres of the shoreline.
Anna Erick, who runs a beachfront hotel on Tanna island in Vanuatu further from the quake, told AFP she decided to head to higher ground with her children after larger-than-usual waves began to crash on a nearby beach.
The waves were about knee-high, she said.
While she decided to evacuate as a precaution, others were still watching the waves, Erick said.
In New Caledonia, the police had also evacuated the coast and activated tsunami sirens.
Waves that hit the New Caledonia islands of Mare and Ile des Pins, “were no higher than 50 centimetres”, said civil security chief Frederic Marchi-Leccia.
“Sirens rang all around the territory, and the security forces and firefighters evacuated the coastal areas,” he said.
– ‘Ring of Fire’ –
A hotel receptionist in the New Caledonia capital Noumea told AFP she had felt no shaking from the tremor.
But others in the city reported feeling strong shaking.
“We were on the 14th floor. We were on the sofa quietly watching TV, we were finishing lunch, and then it shook for a few seconds. It was super scary,” one resident told a local radio programme.
Another, named Anne-Laure, told the programme: “We didn’t think… we went to get my sister-in-law and immediately we came to higher ground.”
Meanwhile, a travel agent on Ile des Pins on the eastern edge of the New Caledonia archipelago said she heard no evacuation warning.
“Everybody is still on the beach and in the restaurants,” she said.
Earthquakes are common along the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.
Earlier this month, an earthquake in Japan killed one person, injured dozens more and destroyed several buildings.
And in April, an evacuation order was issued to coastal dwellers on a remote Philippine island after a 6.2-magnitude quake struck the ocean off the archipelago, triggering a tsunami warning, though there were no reports of damage.
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