New Zealand, Australia on tsunami watch after strong South Pacific quake

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WELLINGTON: A 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck the South Pacific region on Thursday, triggering tsunami warnings and calls for residents to avoid beaches and shore areas.

The European Mediterranean Seismological Center (EMSC) said the 7.7 magnitude quake’s epicenter was 417 km (258 miles) east of Tadine, New Caledonia, and at a depth of 10 km (6.2 miles).

Australia confirmed a marine tsunami threat to Lord Howe Island, a marine reserve more than 700 kilometers (450 miles) northeast of Sydney, but said evacuations were not necessary.

New Zealand authorities urged residents along its northern coast to avoid beaches and shore areas.

The New Zealand National Emergency Management Agency said people should get out of the water, off beaches and away from harbors, rivers and estuaries in areas from Ahipara to Bay of Islands, Great Barrier Island and from Matata to Tolaga Bay.

“We expect New Zealand coastal areas to experience strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges at the shore,” the agency said in a statement.

“Strong currents and surges can injure and drown people. There is a danger to swimmers, surfers, people fishing, small boats and anyone in or near the water close to shore.”

The quake, whose strength was upgraded from an earlier magnitude of 7.2, followed at least three other tremors in the region with magnitudes ranging from 5.7 to 6.1 in a span of just over an hour.

The US Tsunami Warning System said a tsunami watch was in effect for American Samoa and cited a potential for tsunamis in other regions including Vanuatu, Fiji and New Zealand.

Waves reaching up to a level of 1 meter (3.3 feet) above the normal tide level were possible for some coastal areas of Vanuatu, Fiji and New Zealand, it added.

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