Tsunami hits Pacific Islands (Hawaii under threat) - Updated

September 30th, 2009 - 2:38 am ICT by BNO News  

AMERICAN SAMOA (BNO NEWS) – A massive earthquake struck the South Pacific on Wednesday morning, according to officials, generating a possible destructive tsunami that struck at least one island. Tsunami warnings remain in effect, but there was no immediate word on possible damage or casualties from either the earthquake or the tsunami.

The earthquake, which had a preliminary magnitude of 7.9 to 8.3, struck 127 miles south-southwest of Apia, Samoa and about 139 miles southwest of Pago Pago on American Samoa. The tremor, which struck at 6.45 a.m. local time, had a depth of about 30 miles, making it a fairly shallow earthquake. Shallow earthquakes often tend to cause more damage, and increase the risk of a destructive earthquake.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center immediately issued a tsunami warning for American Samoa, Samoa, Niue, Wallis-Futuna, Tokelau, Cook Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Kermadec Islands, Fiji, Howland-Baker, Jarvis Island, New Zealand, French Polynesia and Palmyra Island. Later, tsunami warnings were also issued for Palmyra Island, Vanuatu, Nauru, Marshall Island and the Solomon Islands.

A tsunami watch is also in effect for Johnston Island, New Caledonia, Kosrae, Papua New Guinea, Pohnpei, Wake Island, Pitcairn, Midway Island, Chuuk and Australia.

Although the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a watch for Australia, the Join Australian Tsunami Warning Center said there was no threat to the country or its islands.

A spokeswoman for the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center told BNO News that a 13.1 foot (4 meter) tsunami had hit the harbor of Pago Pago on American Samoa, but said she had no information about possible casualties.

“Based on all available data a tsunami may have been generated by this earthquake that could be destructive on coastal areas even far from the epicenter. An investigation is underway to determine if there is a tsunami threat to Hawaii,” a bulletin from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center read.

A witness told Radio New Zealand that villages on the south-east coast of Samoa’s Upolu had been flattened by the earthquake and that police were moving people to higher ground. It also said that a 10 foot (3 meter) tsunami struck its coast.

Shaking near the epicenter reportedly lasted up to three minutes.

A moderate earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.6 struck nearly 30 minutes after the initial quake, at 7.15 a.m. local time. A spokesman for the United States Geological Survey warned that more strong aftershocks should be expected.

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