Tsunami warn­ing for Van­u­atu and New Cale­do­nia af­ter 7.6 mag­ni­tude earthquake

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - Kate Lyons

A tsunami warn­ing has been is­sued for the Pa­cific is­land of New Cale­do­nia, af­ter a shal­low 7.6-mag­ni­tude earthquake struck off the coun­try’s coast, prompt­ing warn­ings that hazardous tsunami waves up to three me­tres high could reach New Cale­do­nia and Van­u­atu.

The earthquake was a shal­low 10km (6 miles) deep and oc­curred about 155km (95 miles) south­east of the Loy­alty Is­lands, which are part of New Cale­do­nia, a French ter­ri­tory, on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon lo­cal time.

“Based on the pre­lim­i­nary earthquake pa­ram­e­ters, hazardous tsunami waves are pos­si­ble for coasts lo­cated within 1,000km of the earthquake epi­cen­ter,” warned the Pa­cific Tsunami Warn­ing Cen­ter (PTWC), say­ing waves could reach be­tween one and three me­tres high.

Earthquakes are gen­er­ally more de­struc­tive when the epi­cen­ter is near the sur­face, how­ever there were no ini­tial re­ports of dam­age or de­struc­tive waves.

The New Cale­do­nian high com­mis­sion ini­tially is­sued a tsunami warn­ing for all of New Cale­do­nia, or­der­ing the “im­me­di­ate evac­u­a­tion” of peo­ple to refuge ar­eas and the “ap­pli­ca­tion of safety in­struc­tions”, with res­i­dents be­ing alerted by ur­gent text mes­sage, which in­structed them to go to refuges.

“If you don’t have time to pre­pare your evac­u­a­tion, get more than 300m away from the coast and/or get to a height of more than 12m,” warned the Direc­torate for Civil Pro­tec­tion and Risk Man­age­ment of New Cale­do­nia (DSCGR).

“We ac­ti­vated the alert sirens... along the east coast and all the Loy­alty Is­lands,” Eric Backes, di­rec­tor of the is­lands’ civil de­fence author­ity, told lo­cal ra­dio.

“Peo­ple should move away from the coast­line and to higher ground or go to the evac­u­a­tion points set up in each com­mune.”

The DSCGR warned peo­ple not to use their ve­hi­cles, told them to leave their chil­dren at school where they would be taken care of by teach­ers and not to clog the tele­phone lines.

The DSCGR later down­graded the warn­ing, say­ing evac­u­a­tion was not re­quired for the west coast of the coun­try, in par­tic­u­lar Noumea, the cap­i­tal. But they warned res­i­dents to “re­main vig­i­lant over the en­tire coastal strip due to pos­si­ble ab­nor­mal sea level move­ments”.

At 5:45pm lo­cal time, they said “sea move­ments” were ex­pected for three hours un­til 8:45pm, and that the end of the alert would be an­nounced by sirens.

Basile Citre, a mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cial on the Loy­alty Is­land of Mare, said the sit­u­a­tion there was so far un­der con­trol.

“I was in a meet­ing at the town hall and we felt a small tremor then a big­ger one,” he told AFP.

“The build­ing shook, but there was no dam­age. When the sirens sounded, the pop­u­la­tion headed for higher ground for safety. For now, noth­ing se­ri­ous has hap­pened.”

The PTWC said ini­tial tsunami waves could ar­rive be­tween 4:42pm UTC and 5:39pm UTC but warned that the ac­tual ar­rival time of the wave could dif­fer from this and warned that “a tsunami is a se­ries of waves and the time be­tween waves can be five min­utes to one hour” and that the ini­tial wave may not be the largest and most danger­ous in the se­ries.

New Zealand au­thor­i­ties is­sued a tsunami warn­ing af­ter the quake, but that was quickly re­scinded.

A spokesman for the Van­u­atu Geo­haz­ards Ob­ser­va­tory said the sparsely pop­u­lated is­land of Tanna was ex­pected to be most af­fected part of the coun­try but no evac­u­a­tions had been or­dered.

“There are no sirens on Tanna but the peo­ple on the is­land are fa­mil­iar with these sit­u­a­tions and they will have taken pre­cau­tions and gone to higher ground,” he told AFP.

There were no im­me­di­ate re­ports of dam­age from the ini­tial earthquake and ac­cord­ing to the US Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey mod­el­ling, dam­age from the quake is ex­pected to be min­i­mal in terms of loss of life.

Waves reach­ing 0.3m to 1m above tide level could reach some coasts of Fiji, warned the PTWC.

The PTWC said gov­ern­ment agen­cies should in­form coastal pop­u­la­tions who are at risk, in line with their pro­ce­dures and told peo­ple lo­cated in threat­ened coastal ar­eas to “stay alert for in­for­ma­tion”.

Pho­to­graph: Theo Rouby/AP

The quake struck at a shal­low 10km deep

Pho­to­graph: Face­book/ Jean Jac­ques Brunet/Reuters

Res­i­dents gather out­side dur­ing the evac­u­a­tion in Noumea.

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