New Caledonia quake triggers tsunami alert, no reports of serious damage
A powerful 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck near New Caledonia Wednesday, triggering a tsunami alert and emergency evacuations across a swathe of the South Pacific, but there were no immediate reports of serious damage or injuries.
Authorities said the quake, followed by at least 10 strong aftershocks, was centered about 170 kilometers southeast of New Caledonia’s Loyalty Islands at a depth of just 10 kilometers.
Tsunami waves were recorded moving out from the epicenter, prompting residents to flee to high ground and triggering surges as high as 72 centimeters – on the island of Tanna, Vanuatu.
Island residents said the initial quake shook the walls of buildings and in places turned the sea foamy.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center initially warned waves of up to three meters could be expected and shallow quakes of that magnitude can be devastating.
But the center later reported waves measured by its monitors around the region only reached about 72 centimeters.
Civil defense 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 defense 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.”
The quake triggered emergency warning systems in New Caledonia, where residents received an urgent text message directing them to go to refuges immediately.
Basile Citre, a municipal official on the Loyalty Island of Mare, said he had been in a meeting at the town hall when he felt a small tremor followed by a bigger shock.