5 Dec 2018

New Caledonia quake: Tsunami threat 'largely passed'

8:40 pm on 5 December 2018

No damage has been reported in New Caledonia after a massive 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck southeast of the Loyalty Islands this evening.

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Residents on the New Caledonia coastline have been urged to get to areas more than 12m above sea level. (file photo) Photo: AFP

A tsunami warning was issued for the area by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre, warning of waves of up to 3m high, but in its latest message said the tsunami threat had 'largely passed'.

The United States Geological Survey has recorded the shake - which hit at about 155 km east-southeast of the Loyalty Islands off New Caledonia's east coast - as a magnitude 7.5 and said it was only a shallow 10 km deep, although the New Caledonia Seismology Network said the quake was centered at a depth of 30 kilometres.

Local journalist Charlie Rene told RNZ the tremor could hardly be felt in the capital Noumea about 300 kilometres from the epicentre.

Mr Rene said a tsunami warning was issued for the whole country but was later rescinded for the capital. He said a warning satyed in place for other parts of the islands for some time afterwards.

Mr Rene said so far there were no reports of a tsunami or damage in the Loyalty islands.

The area has been shaken by several strong aftershocks since the big shake, including another magnitude 7.0 shake, which did not spark a tsunami alert.

After the first shake, authorities in the South Pacific territory urged people to move to locations more than 300 metres distant from the shore, and if possible, to sites higher than 12 metres above sea level.

"We have set off the alarm on the exterior of New Caledonia but we don't have any immediate assessment of potential damage," said a spokeswoman for the Directorate for Civil Protection and Risk Management.

"Hazardous tsunami waves from this earthquake are possible within 1000 km of the epicenter along the coasts of Vanuatu and New Caledonia," the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

"Tsunami waves have been observed."

The tsunami waves were observed at Maré Island in New Caledonia and Lenakel in Vanuatu.

It said the waves could be as high as 3m above sea level in New Caledonia and Vanuatu, and up to 1m above the tide level in Fiji.

Civil Defence said there was no tsunami threat to New Zealand.

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Photo: Supplied / PTWC

A spokesman for French mining and metals group Eramet , which operates the Doniambo nickel plant in the main harbour 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.

- Reuters / RNZ