Update – Tsunami warning downgraded in New Zealand

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WELLINGTON (Reuters) –  New Zealand downgraded its tsunami threat level, as the largest waves have now passed, the National Emergency Management agency said on Friday in its latest update.

“All people who evacuated can now return,” it said.

Thousands of New Zealanders on the east coast of the country’s North Island were evacuated to higher ground after three offshore earthquakes triggered tsunami sirens and warnings.

Earthquake swarm, North Island tsunami warning after magnitude 8 shake strikes. This is the third earthquake striking New Zealand. NZ Herald reports “Many North Island coastal residents have been told to move immediately to higher ground after a third massive earthquake off New Zealand.

The magnitude 8 earthquake struck off the Kermadec Islands, 1000km northeast of New Zealand, at 8.28am.

A new tsunami advisory was issued for parts of New Zealand on Friday after a 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck near the Kermadec Islands on the northeast of New Zealand’s North Island, just hours after strong tremors rattled much of the country.

This followed another large 7.2 magnitude earthquake about 900 kilometres away on the east of the North Island that struck just four hours earlier and was felt by tens of thousands, causing its own tsunami warning. This warning was later lifted.

“We expect New Zealand coastal areas to experience strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges at the shore,” the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said in a tsunami advisory after the earthquake off the Kermadec Islands.

It asked people located between the Bay of Islands and Whangarei to stay off beaches and shore areas.

There was no tsunami threat to other areas of New Zealand.

Earlier in the day, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck off the east of New Zealand’s North Island, prompting a tsunami warning that was later withdrawn, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC) said, although residents were asked to stay alert.

“There is no longer a tsunami threat from this earthquake,” PTWC said in a statement.

There were no immediate reports of damage, but the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) advised people in some coastal areas to move immediately to high ground.

A handout shakemap made available by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) shows the location of a 7.3-magnitude earthquake hitting 174km north east of Gisborne, New Zealand, 04 March 2021. EPA-EFE/USGS HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

Local civil defence authorities said the tsunami threat would continue for several hours.

“Coastal inundation (flooding of land areas) is expected in areas under Land and Marine threat,” NEMA said in a tweet.

The closest major city to the epicentre is Gisborne with a population of about 35,500. People near the coast from Cape Runaway to Tolaga Bay were told to evacuate.

“Hope everyone is ok out there – especially on the East Coast who would have felt the full force of that earthquake,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern posted on Instagram.

There was threat to the capital Wellington and other regions, but civil defence authorities asked residents across the country to stay away from beaches and marine areas as there could be strong and unusual currents. 

More than 60,000 people reported feeling the quake on GeoNet’s website, with 282 describing the shaking as “severe” and 75 saying it was “extreme”. Most others described it as light.

Aftershocks were still being recorded in the area. 

(Reporting by Praveen Menon in Wellington and Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru; editing by John Stonestreet, Giles Elgood and Nick Macfie)

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