M7 earthquake triggers tsunami warnings for New Caledonia and Vanuatu

Our Foreign Staff
A magnitude 7.0 quake struck east of New Caledonia in the South Pacific 

An undersea earthquake of magnitude 7.0 struck in the South Pacific on Monday, sending small tsunami waves towards New Caledonia and Vanuatu.

The quake, initially reported as magnitude 7.3, struck 51 miles east of the Loyalty Islands and was the second major tremor in the same area in less than 24 hours and the third in the past month.

Monday's quake struck at 9.43 am local time (2243 Sunday GMT) at a shallow depth of six miles, east of the remote Loyalty Islands, the United States Geological Survey said.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said small tsunami waves were observed in New Caledonia and Vanuatu, but later said the danger had largely passed.

Waves may have reached up to one metre (three feet) above the high tide level in parts of New Caledonia and smaller in Vanuatu, the PTWC said.

"Minor sea level fluctuations...may continue over the next few hours," a statement from the agency said.

"Government agencies responsible for threatened coastal areas should take action to inform and instruct any coastal populations populations at risk," the PTWC said in an alert.

Nervous residents reported feeling several tremors throughout the night before the quake hit.

"Parked cars were shaking and everyone went outside," one official from Mare in the Loyalty Islands told AFP.

"I thought I was going to faint, I was very afraid and I rushed out of my building," said a resident of central Noumea.

Wayan Rigault, communications manager at Hotel Nengone Village on the island of Mare, said there was no immediate damage, but guests were on alert for a formal evacuation warning.

"We are a little bit scared, we have had an earthquake last night and today it was quite a big one," he said. 

Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office advised people in southern provinces to evacuate coastal areas for higher ground.

New Caledonia's civil security agency said it was still compiling data, and was not planning to evacuate immediately.

Authorities in Australia and New Zealand said there were no tsunami threats to either of those countries.