October 7, 2009 / 11:15 PM / in 8 years

Fresh quakes renew tsunami fears for Pacific

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Pacific nations braced for a fresh tsunami on Thursday after two huge subsea quakes struck the region, sending islanders fleeing for higher ground, only a week after a series of deadly tsunamis devastated the Samoa islands.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued the warning for 11 nations, including Papua New Guinea, an oil and gas supplier, and the popular resort islands of Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

The Hawaii-based center also issued a tsunami watch for the wider western Pacific, including Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and the nations of American Samoa and Samoa, where about 150 people were killed by a series of tsunamis last week.

Authorities in New Caledonia, a French territory, were evacuating people from the island’s eastern shore and from the nearby Loyalty Islands to higher ground, local police said.

A police spokesman in the capital, Noumea, said the nation was bracing for a tsunami to hit around 11:15 a.m. local time on Thursday (0015 GMT or 8:15p.m. EDT).

The Hawaii-based tsunami warning center said it was still evaluating whether to raise a Pacific-wide warning after two subsea quakes struck between Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, one measuring 7.8 magnitude and the other 7.3.

A magnitude 6.7 tremor struck southeast of the Sulu archipelago of the Philippines, which is still mopping up from a typhoon. REUTERS/Graphics

“An evaluation of the Pacific-wide tsunami threat is underway and there is a possibility that Hawaii could be elevated to a watch or warning status,” the center said.

A spokesman for New Zealand’s Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management said it was issuing a tsunami advisory for people not to be on beaches or boats near the coast.

The ministry is awaiting further information before taking further steps, the spokesman said.

A resident of Luganville on the southern coast of Vanuatu’s Espiritu Santo island said the quake had shaken the town, but there were no reports of damage or change in sea level.

“People were frightened and some ran out of the building onto the street because it was so strong,” a Florence Cari, receptionist at the Hotel Santo told Reuters by telephone. “The sea has not changed but we don’t know if something will happen.”

A reporter at the Daily Post newspaper in Port Vila said people on Vanuatu’s Espiritu Santo island were running for higher ground. “We have had reports that the kids are running into the hills,” she said.

Moments before the Pacific quakes, a magnitude 6.7 tremor struck southeast of the Sulu archipelago of the Philippines, which is still mopping up from a typhoon that killed at least 22 people.

Reporting by World Desk Americas, Michael Perry and Cecile Lefort in Sydney, Adrian Bathgate in Wellington; writing by Mark Bendeich; Editing by Jonathan Standing

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