Powerful quake rattles New Caledonia, sparks tsunami warning

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A powerful earthquake that struck in the southern Pacific Ocean on Wednesday sent jitters around the region after authorities warned of possible tsunamis, but there were no initial reports of destructive waves or major damage.

The magnitude 7.5 quake hit in the afternoon near the French territory of New Caledonia at a shallow depth, where earthquakes are generally more damaging. It was felt as far away as Vanuatu, about 630 kilometers (390 miles) away

Tsunami sirens blared across New Caledonia minutes after the quake. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said tsunami waves of between 1 and 3 meters (3 and 10 feet) were possible along some coasts of New Caledonia and Vanuatu, before later lifting the warning.

Local 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 the regional police said western islands didn’t need to evacuate but should remain vigilant.

While residents of the region are familiar with tsunami warnings and evacuations, the quake startled tourists, including communications consultant Eugenie Kerleau, 30, vacationing on the island of Lifou from her home in mainland France.

“It was really surprising, I had a feeling of vertigo, the curtains were moving. We were immediately evacuated from the hotel to a calmer point at higher altitude,” she told The Associated Press.

No damage was immediately reported, according to Vincent Lepley, crisis coordinator 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. McGarry, the media director at the Vanuatu Daily Post, said the waves traveled only a couple of meters (7 feet) beyond the normal tidal waves, and that everybody was fine on the island.

McGarry 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 center said there was no tsunami threat to Hawaii.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake struck about 168 kilometers (104 miles) east of Tadine in New Caledonia at a shallow depth of 10 kilometers (6 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 living in each archipelago.

Last month, voters in New Caledonia elected to remain a territory of France rather than becoming independent. Both 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.

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