7.2 quake hits South Pacific nation of Vanuatu
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – Residents of a northern town in the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu ran into the streets Friday as a powerful magnitude 7.2 earthquake shook the area, police said.
The magnitude 7.2 quake rattled the island country, briefly triggering a tsunami watch for the region, officials said. There were no immediate reports of damage or injury.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake struck at 4.14 a.m. local time and was centered 300 miles (485 kilometers) northwest of the capital, Port Vila, at a depth of 22 miles (36 kilometers). Three more sharp quakes followed in the same area, including a magnitude 6.4 more than three hours later.
“Some people left their houses in the town – they ran out the doors,” police spokesman James Tari said from Luganville, the main settlement on Espirito Santo, the main island closest to the quakes.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii issued a tsunami warning for Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and New Caledonia, but canceled the alert about an hour later.
The center’s duty geophysicist Barry Hershorn said they had confirmed there was no tsunami from ocean buoys and from coastal sea level gauges in Vanuatu.
The quake was “a little bigger than usual – for me the shake was a really big one,” he said. “At the moment there are no reports of injury or damage.”
Authorities in Vanuatu said they were checking for information on the quake and were pleased the tsunami alert had been canceled.
“The very close proximity (of the quake epicenter) to Espirito Santo meant there was nothing much we could do” to alert residents to any danger, said Meteorological Office acting director Salesa Kaniaha.
Vanuatu – a chain of 83 islands – lies just over 1,400 miles (2,200 kilometers) northeast of Sydney.
Vanuatu is part of the Pacific “ring of fire” – an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching from Chile in South America through Alaska and down through Vanuatu to Tonga in the South Pacific.