- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 7, 2009

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) Two powerful earthquakes rocked the South Pacific near the Vanuatu archipelago Thursday morning, the U.S. Geological Survey reported, triggering a regional tsunami alert.

The first quake, with a magnitude of 7.8, struck 183 miles (294 kilometers) northwest of the Vanuatu island of Santo, and 354 miles (596 kilometers) northwest of the capital of Port Vila, at a depth of 21 miles (35 kilometers).

Just 15 minutes later a second quake with a magnitude 7.3 hit at the same depth but 21 miles (35 kilometers) farther north of Santo and Port Vila.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center immediately issued a regional tsunami warning for 11 nations and territories, including Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Fiji and Kiribati. A tsunami watch was in effect as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

There were no immediate reports of injury or damage from officials in Vanuatu, a chain of 83 islands. It lies just over 1,400 miles (2,200 kilometers) northeast of Sydney, Australia.

“We have no damage reports yet, but we have had no contact with Santo so far,” Vanuatu police spokesman Take Rakau told The Associated Press.

While the quakes were not felt in Port Vila, he said Santo, with its capital of Luganville, “most likely could have felt them.”

“The (nation’s) National Disaster Management Office has sent out a tsunami warning,” he added.

The small atoll nation of Tuvalu in the South Pacific was “on full standby,” after the nation’s radio alerted people across its eight islands of the tsunami warning, said the head of the Meteorological Office, Hilia Vavae.

“Some are in a panic,” she told The AP about 40 minutes before any possible tsunami waves were due to reach the low-lying coral atolls, already losing some of their coastal lands to rising sea levels.

The latest warning comes just 10 days after a quake of magnitude 8.3 rocked the South Pacific near Samoa, sparking tsunami waves that killed at least 178 people and devastated coastal villages in Samoa, American Samoa and in northern Tonga.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Geological Survey reported a strong earthquake struck south of the Philippines on Thursday morning local time.

The quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.7 and was located in the Celebes Sea, 175 miles (282 kilometers) southeast of Jolo, Sulu Archipelago, and 730 miles (1,175 kilometers) south of Manila. The quake hit at 5:41 a.m. Thursday local time.

USGS did not report any damages or injuries.


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