New Caledonia, Vanuatu order evacuations after powerful quake, but suffer little impact

People gather outside during a quake evacuation in Noumea, New Caledonia December 5, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. Facebook/Jean Jacques Brunet/via REUTERS

(Reuters) - New Caledonia and Vanuatu ordered coastal evacuations on Wednesday after a powerful undersea earthquake triggered tsunami warnings in the South Pacific, but appeared to have suffered little damage.

The quake of magnitude 7.6, which struck east of New Caledonia, was just 10 km (6 miles) deep and about 155 km (95 miles) east-southeast of the Loyalty Islands, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said.

Authorities in the French territory urged people to move to locations more than 300 meters (984 ft) away from the shore, and if possible, to sites higher than 12 meters (39 ft) above sea level.

“The good news is, we have had no injuries or damage,” said Oliver Ciry, a spokesman for New Caledonia’s directorate for civil protection and risk management, adding that abnormal movements of the sea off the east coast and around the Loyalty Islands had been spotted earlier.

Neighboring Vanuatu also issued an evacuation warning.

Production of nickel, New Caledonia’s dominant export, was briefly interrupted by the quake, however.

Eramet ERMT.PA, the operator of the Doniambo nickel plant in the main harbor of Noumea, on the west coast, initiated its tsunami alert process, a spokesman for the French mining and metals group said.

“The procedure is to ask people who work near the sea to move higher up,” he said, adding that he had felt the strong quake, although it did not cause prolonged shaking.

Reporting by Melanie Burton, Swati Pandey, Charlotte Greenfield and Colin Packham; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez