Earthquake in Pacific Triggers Tsunami, Evacuations (Update2)
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By Ed Johnson and Aaron Sheldrick
Oct. 8 (Bloomberg) -- A magnitude-7.8 earthquake triggered a tsunami warning for nations across the South Pacific, forcing people to flee to higher ground, nine days after destructive waves killed about 140 people in Samoa.
Authorities evacuated locals and tourists on islands including Fiji and New Caledonia, before the alert was canceled. There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.
The warning was triggered by a quake that struck off Vanuatu at 9:03 a.m. local time today, followed by a temblor measuring 7.7 about 15 minutes later, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Aftershocks measuring 7.3 and 6.6 were also recorded. Tsunami waves as high as 10 centimeters were seen in Vanuatu, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, which canceled the regional alert about 2 1/2 hours after the initial earthquake.
“Everyone was running up the mountains,” Agence France- Presse cited local journalist Tipi Autagavaia as saying from the Samoan island of Upolu. “You could see the panic and fear was still fresh from what happened” when a tsunami, triggered by a magnitude-8 quake, hit late last month.
That disaster killed at least 184 people, including 143 in Samoa, 32 in neighboring American Samoa and nine in Tonga, AFP reported.
In American Samoa, Betty Ahsoon, a spokeswoman for Homeland Security, said today’s alert sparked panic, the news agency said. “I think they’re well aware now whenever the word ‘tsunami’ comes, they are going to have to run and that’s what they did,” AFP cited her as saying.
In New Caledonia, the port of Koniambo was evacuated and workers in vessels were advised to take precautions, Peter Fuchs, a spokesman for Xstrata Plc, said by e-mail.
The site began returning to normal operations after the tsunami warning was lifted,, he said. Xstrata, the world’s fourth-largest copper supplier, is developing the $3.8 billion Koniambo nickel mine in New Caledonia and is due to start producing ore in 2012.
“It was pretty calm, nobody was too distressed,” said Australian tourist Steve Handley, 22, who was staying at the Mango Bay resort on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu, where hotel workers told guests to seek refuge on a nearby hill, about 100 meters above sea level.
Schools were closed in coastal areas, Misaeli Funaki, duty forecaster at the Fiji Meteorological Service, said by phone.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a warning or watch for more than 30 nations, including Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa, Indonesia and the Philippines.
New Zealand authorities canceled the tsunami alert and advised people to be wary of strong currents along the country’s coast line.
A tsunami watch for Australia’s Queensland state was canceled after no threatening waves were observed, the country’s Bureau of Meteorology said.
The Japan Meteorological Agency said it expected “slight sea level changes” in waters off Japan because of the quake.
Residents in Vanuatu, a group of 83 islands to the west of Samoa, raced to higher ground after the alert, AFP said. The magnitude-7.8 quake struck 295 kilometers north-northwest of Vanuatu’s Espiritu Santo island at a depth of 35 kilometers, according to the USGS.
Vanuatu, a popular tourist destination, is in a zone where the Pacific and Indo-Australian plates meet and constantly shift.
Authorities in New Caledonia evacuated schools and ordered people away from the coast, AFP said.