SUVA (Reuters) - A powerful undersea earthquake struck off the south Pacific island of Tonga on Friday and generated a tsunami capable of causing severe damage to the area, the U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported.
There were no reports of damage or of sea levels rising in Fiji or Tonga, and the tsunami warning was later cancelled.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude 7.9 quake struck 212.4 km southeast of Nuku’alofa, Tonga, at 6:17 a.m. on Friday (1817 GMT on Thursday).
“Sea level readings confirm that a tsunami was generated. This tsunami may have been destructive along coastlines of the region near the earthquake epicenter,” the U.S. National Weather Service’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.
It later cancelled its warning for Tonga, Niue, Kermadec Island, American Samoa, Samoa, Wallis-Futuna and Fiji, but warned that localised waves could cause damage.
“No tsunami threat exists for other coastal areas in the Pacific, although some other areas may experience small sea level changes,” it said in a statement on its Website.
The center said the tsunami might be felt as far away as Hawaii but was not expected to cause any damage there. No tsunami warning was issued for Australia’s coastline, and the New Zealand Press Association reported that a tsunami warning for the country had been cancelled.
“There has been no damage or seas rising,” said a journalist at Fiji’s radio FM96. “Children have been told to return home from school and parents and are now collecting their children.”
The undersea quake off Tonga occurred near fault lines in the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where continental plates in the earth’s crust meet and earthquakes and volcanic activity are common.
An undersea volcanic eruption off Tonga earlier this week, thought caused by a strong sharp tremor, sent plumes of white and grey smoke towering into the sky
During the past three weeks sharp tremors have been felt in Nuku’alofa about twice a week. The last of which was the longest, about four seconds, on March 13, said online news site Matangi Tonga (www.matangitonga.to)
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