8 Oct 2009

Tsunami warning issued after huge quake strikes near Vanuatu

1:28 pm on 8 October 2009

A tsunami warning has been issued after a huge subsea quake struck near Vanuatu and eastern Solomon Islands.

The 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck near Vanuatu, about 294 kilometres from Santo island at a depth of 35km,

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center says a tsunami warning is in effect for Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, Fiji, Kiribati, Kosrae, Wallis-Futuna, and Howland Baker island.

A tsunami watch is in effect for Marshall Islands, Tokelau, New Zealand, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Australia, Niue, Cook Islands, Chuuk, Kermadec Island, Pohnpei, Indonesia, Wake Island, Jarvis Island, Palmyra Island, Guam, Northern Marianas, Johnston Island, Yap, Marcus Island, and Palau.

The police in Luganville on Vanuatu's Santo Island is advising people to move to higher ground following a tsunami warning.

A police constable, Terry Malapa, says there's no immediate damage report from the earthquake.

Mr Malapa says police officers are warning people about a possible tsunami.

"Police officers are around town to speak to people about the quake and tsunami. The media services are giving warning to the public advising them to move to higher ground just in case a tsunami occurs, then most of the public is safe at the higher grounds."

Terry Malapa says it's difficult to issue the warning to people in remote parts of the island, but they're trying to reach them via radio-contact.

A hotel owner on the Vanuatu island of Santo, near the quakes that have triggered a tsunami warning, says some people have moved to higher ground.

Ben Healy from the Deco Stop Lodge in Luganville, the main town on Santo, says they felt two earthquakes the second of which felt more powerful than the first.

He says there have been no reports of damage in the town yet.

He says more than 20 people have moved up the hill to his lodge, but there has been no panic.

Oh no no, very orderly fashion. It seems to be a precaution because we do get quite a few tsunami warnings here. But they have come up to higher ground as a precaution.

Ben Healy says last week's tsunami in the Pacific, which killed more than 180 people in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga was probably in the back of people's minds, when they decided to come up the hill.

The news editor of the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation, Walter Nalangu, says according to police in the Temotu provincial capital, Lata, people have fled to higher ground.

Mr Nalangu says police felt at least three tremors.

They felt three, at least three, at ten-minute intervals. What I got from the police officer that I spoke to in Lata, that's the provincial capital, everybody has moved to higher ground.

Mr Nalangu says phone lines are overloaded and there has been no communication with other outer islands.

All schools in the Loyalty Islands in New Caledonia have been evacuated after the sounding of a tsunami warning, triggered by a large earthquake in the South Pacific.

Our correspondent in New Caledonia, Claudine Wery says all residents in the Loyalty Islands reacted promptly by moving to safer ground, following the warning.

All the population went to higher land or they went as far away from the sea. On the eastern coast schools have also been evacuated and the population also is going in the mountains at the risk of a tsunami.

Claudine Wery says a police spokesman has told her everyone reacted quickly but without panic.

She says the French Embassy in Port Vila in Papua New Guinea has also told her a brief earthquake was felt there but so far there has been no reports of damage or injuries.