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Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Earthquake triggers tsunami warning - red alert

A magnitude-8.0 earthquake roiled a swath of the South Pacific today, triggering tsunami warnings for 20 island nations and prompting Samoans to flee coastal villages for higher ground.

A 5-foot (1.5-meter) tsunami was reported at Pago Pago, American Samoa, the U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said. Homes in some villages on the southern coast of the Samoan island of Upolu were washed away, Radio New Zealand reported. Some people on that coast may have been swept to sea, Television New Zealand reported, citing its Apia-based film crew.

The quake struck shortly before 7 a.m. local time about 122 miles (196 kilometers) southwest of Apia, the capital of the independent island of Samoa, at a depth of about 22 miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said warnings for tsunami activity were posted for Fiji, New Zealand, Tonga, the Cook Islands and 16 other nations.

“Our house has already been taken by the tsunami,” Theresa Falele Dussey told Radio New Zealand from hills above Apia, where people took shelter. “Some of the houses and cars next to our village have already been taken by tsunami as well.”

New Zealand civil defense officials warned local authorities in coastal areas to prepare for a tsunami. A wave may be about 1 meter high if it reaches here, Civil Defense Minister John Carter said on a television broadcast.

‘Crying and Screaming’

The tsunami was projected to reach Tonga and Fiji about 9 a.m. local time, according to the Pacific warning center. It is expected to reach the eastern coast of New Zealand’s North Island about 9:45 a.m. local time.

Residents of Samoa, shocked by the strength of the jolt, heeded warnings of local police and moved inland, Radio New Zealand’s Samoa correspondent, Tipi Autagavaia, said on a broadcast.

“My kids were preparing to go to school and were all crying and screaming,” he said in the broadcast. “It was a big, big shock to most people, because it is the first time they have experienced such a very strong earthquake.”

The magnitude of the quake was revised higher from an initial reading of 7.9, the USGS said. The quake was followed by two 5.6 temblors, one in the Samoa Islands region and one near the Cook Islands, the USGS said.

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