A shallow and powerful magnitude 7.5 earthquake has struck off the east coast of New Caledonia in the South Pacific, according to seismologists,prompting a tsunami alert and evacuations on the Pacific island, authorities said.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said on Wednesday that tsunami waves had been “observed” in the region but did not say where.
Residents of New Caledonia, a French territory, received text messages directing them to go to refuge centres immediately, with waves of up to three metres possible, according to the warning centre.
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But people in New Caledonia and nearby Vanuatu said they did not feel the quake, according to the AFP news agency, while tsunami warning sirens were not immediately activated in Vanuatu.
“Hazardous tsunami waves are forecast for some coasts,” the warning centre said, after earlier warning that the danger zone included “coasts located within 1000km of the earthquake epicentre.”
The undersea quake was only 10km deep and about 155km east-southeast of the Loyalty Islands off New Caledonia’s east coast. Earthquakes are generally more destructive when the epicentre is near the surface.
The epicentre was some 300 kilometres east of Noumea
There were no immediate reports of damage from the quake.
A spokesperson for French mining and metals group Eramet , which runs the Doniambo nickel plant in the main harbour of Noumea, said the company had activated its tsunami alert process.
“The procedure is to ask people who work near the sea to move higher up.”
The spokesperson said he had felt the quake, describing it a strong but not long-lasting shaking.
New Caledonia, a cluster of islands home to about 270,000 people, is a unique collectivity of France.
It sits 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.
The nearby Vanuatu, is an independent state with over 270,000 population. It was previously occupied jointly by France and the United Kingdom.
The US Geological Survey initially gave the magnitude of the quake as 7.6, before revising it downwards slightly.