New Zealand quake tsunami warnings cancelled

WELLINGTON/SYDNEY Wed Jul 15, 2009 3:21pm EDT

WELLINGTON/SYDNEY (Reuters) - New Zealand and Australia canceled tsunami warnings on Wednesday after an earthquake struck the south of New Zealand, causing minor damage but no injuries.

Australia's weather bureau said a small tsunami had been recorded in New Zealand and another was detected in the Tasman Sea heading toward Australia's southeast coast.

"Our deep ocean buoy in the southern Tasman Sea indicates a wave traveling across the Tasman. Because of the depth of the water we can not tell the wave height," Chris Ryan, from Australia's Tsunami Warning Center, told Reuters.

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology issued a statement advising people in low lying coastal areas to move to higher ground and for people to get out of the water.

Australia canceled its tsunami warning after an hour, downgrading the threat to a "small boat alert". New Zealand also canceled its tsunami warning.

The Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences said the tremor, measuring 6.6 magnitude, struck at 9.22 p.m. (5:22 a.m EDT).

The government institute said it was centered in the remote and unpopulated Fiordland region, about 150 km (95 miles) north west of the country's most southern city, Invercargill. Invercargill. It was measured at around five km (three miles) below ground level.

Local civil defense officials had issued a warning about a "potential tsunami" for the region, because of conflicting reports about the quake's size. The Japanese meteorological agency put the preliminary magnitude at 7.8.

"There was a small wave, but it was not damage causing ... people probably wouldn't have noticed it among the other waves," Civil Defense spokesman Vince Cholewa told Reuters.

Local media said the quake was felt widely throughout the lower South Island as a long, rolling motion, sending goods falling from shop shelves, but said no injuries were reported.

"It was quite a large motion, the whole house was moving, the door was moving in the doorframe, and the fence posts were moving," Invercargill resident Simon Wilson told Radio New Zealand.

The region, famed for its natural beauty of high mountains, wilderness and deep fiords or inlets, is known for strong earthquake activity. New Zealand records around 14,000 earthquakes a year. (Reporting by Gyles Beckford in Wellington and Michael Perry in Sydney; Editing by Nick Macfie)