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Powerful earthquakes off Vanuatu trigger warning of tsunami

By Sue Richards last modified Oct 08, 2009 11:01 AM

Published: 2009-10-08 11:01:40
Topics: Weather
Countries: Vanuatu , Fiji , Kiribati , Papua New Guinea , Solomon Islands

As reported in the guardian.co.uk

Eleven countries in south Pacific put on alert, but no immediate reports of injury or damage.

A tsunami warning issued for 11 countries and territories, including the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Kiribati, after three powerful earthquakes struck off Vanuatu in the south Pacific was cancelled early this morning.

A tsunami watch, a lower level of alert, had been in effect as far away as Australia and New Zealand. All were cancelled about two and a half hours after the initial earthquakes struck. There were no immediate reports of injury or damage from officials in Vanuatu, a chain of 83 islands that lie 2,200km (1,367 miles) north-east of Sydney, Australia.

The warnings were issued after the Pacific tsunami warning centre in Hawaii said the tremors had the potential to generate a series of destructive waves that could strike coastlines near the epicentre within minutes and more distant coastlines within hours. The US Geological Survey said the first quake, with a magnitude of 7.8, struck 294km northwest of the Vanuatu island of Santo, and 596km north-west of the capital, Port Vila, at a depth of 35km.

Just 15 minutes later a second quake with a magnitude 7.3 hit at the same depth but 35km farther north of Santo and Port Vila. "We have no damage reports yet, but we have had no contact with Santo so far," a Vanuatu police spokesman, Take Rakau, told the Associated Press. "The [country's] national disaster management office has sent out a tsunami warning." A third quake, measuring 7.1, struck 280km north-west of Santo, again at a depth of 35km. These were followed by three smaller earthquakes measuring between magnitude 5.2 and 5.7.

The small atoll nation of Tuvalu in the south Pacific had been "on full standby," after the country's radio alerted people across its eight islands of the tsunami warning, said the head of the meteorological office, Hilia Vavae.

"Some are in a panic," she told the AP about 40 minutes before any possible tsunami waves were due to reach the low-lying coral atolls.

"Authorities should take appropriate action in response to this responsibility," the tsunami warning centre said. "This centre will monitor sea level data from gauges near the earthquake to determine if a tsunami was generated and estimate the severity of the threat."

Meanwhile the British Red Cross also launched its own appeal to help victims of the tsunami that struck Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga last Tuesday, killing 177 people.

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