Powerful New Caledonia earthquake triggers tsunami warning, evacuation

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A tsunami warning has been issued for all of the Pacific island of New Caledonia, after a shallow 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck off the country’s coast, prompting warnings that hazardous tsunami waves up to three metres high could reach New Caledonia and Vanuatu.

US seismologists said the shallow and powerful 7.5-magnitude earthquakestruck off the Pacific islands of New Caledonia, triggering a tsunami warning for the area.

“Based on the preliminary earthquake parameters hazardous tsunami waves are possible for coasts located within 1000 kilometres of the earthquake epicentre,” the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) said the earthquake struck southeast of Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia at a depth of 10 kilometres.

The earthquake made impact at 3.18pm local time in New Caledonia.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in the French overseas territory.

Evacuation ordered

New Caledonian authorities urged people to get to higher ground immediately.

“If you don’t have time to prepare your evacuation, get more than 300m away from the coast and/or get to a height of more than 12m,” warned the Directorate for Civil Protection and Risk Management of New Caledonia (DSCGR).

The DSCGR urged people to leave their children in the care of teachers at school and avoid driving vehicles or tying up the emergency phone lines.

A spokesman for French mining and metals group Eramet, which operates the Doniambo nickel plant in the main harbor of Noumea, said it had enacted its tsunami alert process.

“The procedure is to ask people who work near the sea to move higher up,” he said, adding that he had felt the quake, describing it a strong but not long-lasting shaking.

Tsunami waves spotted

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center warns that three-metre high tsunami waves are possible on some coasts along Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

The warning urged evacuation for threatened coastal areas, saying “tsunami waves have been observed”.

The warning identified vulnerable areas including Vanuatu’s Anatom Island, Esperitu Santo; New Caledonia’s Noumea and Fiji’s Suva. Estimated arrival times were provided, with the earliest starting at 3.42pm local time.

Seismologists in Australia said they are monitoring the earthquake.

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