SYDNEY – A powerful 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck near the western Pacific nation of Vanuatu early Sunday, triggering a small tsunami on the sixth anniversary of the Indian Ocean disaster.
The shallow quake generated a tsunami, the Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said, but it cancelled a regional warning after the wave measured only 15 centimetres (six inches) higher than normal in Vanuatu.
“Sea level readings confirm that a tsunami was generated,” the centre said in its bulletin.
“This tsunami may have been destructive along coastlines of the region near the earthquake epicentre,” it said, but cancelled the warning when no destructive wave hit.
The US Geological Survey said the quake was 12.3 kilometres (7.6 miles) deep, and its epicentre was 145 kilometres (90 miles) west of Isangel, on the island of Tanna in the Vanuatu archipelago.
The USGS revised its initial readings for the magnitude and distances involved, after first recording the quake at 7.6. Two aftershocks of 5.6 and 5.5 magnitude came in the 90 minutes afterwards, it said.
The quake struck at 12:16 am on Sunday (1316 GMT Saturday), and the initial tsunami warning covered Vanuatu, Fiji and the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia. There were no reports of damage or casualties.
Jackie Philip, a member of staff at the Melanesian Port Vila Hotel in the Vanuatu capital, said the hotel was busy with late-night Christmas revellers when the quake struck.
“Some of us, we ran outside and stood and watched the sea for a few minutes but nothing happened. There is no damage and no injuries,” he said, adding that no tsunami warning had been given on local radio.
Vanuatu, which lies between Fiji and Australia and north of New Zealand, is part of the “Pacific Ring of Fire” — an ocean-wide area alive with seismic and volcanic activity caused by the grinding of enormous tectonic plates.
Sunday's quake came on the sixth anniversary of the Boxing Day tsunami, which was triggered by an undersea quake off Indonesia and killed more than 220,000 people around the Indian Ocean.
After the disaster, which came with little or no warning for millions of people in the firing line, regional governments deployed a string of monitoring buoys in the Indian and Pacific Oceans to keep track of any abnormal waves.
In August, a major 7.5-magnitude earthquake off Vanuatu generated a small tsunami and sent thousands of frightened people running for the hills.
In September last year, Samoa in the Pacific suffered its worst natural disaster when three rapid-fire quakes of up to 8.1 magnitude unleashed waves as high as 15 metres (50 feet) that flattened villages and tourist resorts.
The seismic catastrophe claimed 143 lives in Samoa, 34 in the US-administered territory of American Samoa and another nine in Tonga.
– AFP /ls
Channel News Asia